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The Tenth Sunday after Trinity is on August 21, 2002.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 13:10-17

13:10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.

13:11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

13:12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

13:13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

13:14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

13:15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?

13:16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

13:17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Here we have an account about a bent over woman being made straight and bent theology that Jesus wanted to make straight.

Although neither of our commentators says so about this story, there was nearly always a spiritual element to our Lord’s miracles. For that reason, I think that Jesus healed her not only physically but spiritually, too, especially in light of the fact that a demon had caused her condition.

We are in the middle of Luke’s accounts of our Lord’s teaching the Apostles and disciples in the last six months of His ministry. These are in Luke 9 through much of Luke 19.

The Gospel writer does not tell us where this miracle took place other than in a synagogue where Jesus was teaching on the sabbath (verse 10).

Matthew Henry reminds us that Jesus often taught in a synagogue on the sabbath, therefore, we should not neglect public worship on Sundays:

We should make conscience of doing so, as we have opportunity, and not think we can spend the sabbath as well at home reading a good book; for religious assemblies are a divine institution

In our Lord’s era, synagogues were places of worship but, unlike today, they were not led by rabbis.

John MacArthur gives us the background:

A synagogue is not the temple.  It’s simply the word sunagōgēs in Greek.  It means “a meeting place,” a gathering place.  And there were many of them.  Some historians tell us that in the Galilee, which was less populated than the southern part of Israel, Judea, in the Galilee there were as many 240 or 250 different synagoguesAnd in Jesus’ ministry over a year in Galilee, He went all through Galilee preaching and teaching in the synagogue.  It was the perfect place to go to teach.  A synagogue, by the way, was called a house of instruction.  It wasn’t the temple.  That’s where you went for the national ceremonies.  That’s where you went to offer sacrifices.  Synagogues had no sacrifices.  They…They didn’t celebrate the Passover and the other feasts at the synagogue.  It was just a gathering place.

They had no pastor, no preacher, no reigning priest.  They had a lay board of elders and one of them was the ruler or the chairman of that board.  He was responsible to oversee it, but he was the layman.  It was a local gathering place for teaching the word of God, the Old Testament.  They came into existence out of the Babylonian captivity, you remember?  When the Jews were taken captive into Babylon, the time they were in Babylon, of course, they were separated from their house of worship, which was the temple. Before that, there was no such thing as a synagogue.

But while they were in captivity, they first, remember, were gathered together to hear Ezekiel.  Ezekiel came in one of the early deportations.  He gathered the people around and He talked about what was going on.  What God was doing in this time in Israel’s life and Ezekiel spoke to the captives, those who’d been deported and that sort of began the…the gathering of God’s people to hear the meaning of God’s wordAnd synagogues began to develop among the Jews in exileAnd when they went back under Nehemiah to rebuild the city and the temple, they took back the idea of the synagogue and they flourished.  In Jerusalem alone there were about 500 synagogues in just that one city.

And so this was a perfect scenario for the ministry of Jesus, one of God’s timing issues.  And when Jesus came, He could always find the Jewish people, the ones He wanted to reach with the truth of the kingdom gospel gathered on a Sabbath in a synagogue somewhere.  And that’s where He went, but synagogues were getting less and less receptive to Him, even though He was still, as verse 17 indicates, popular with the crowd, who were just kind of stunned by the power that He displayed in His miracles.  The synagogues were getting to be unwelcome and this is the last recorded experience of Jesus in a synagogueWe’re only months before His death.  This is the last recorded opportunity that He has to speak in a synagogue.

Suddenly, a woman appeared, bent over by an evil spirit and unable to stand upright (verse 11).

Matthew Henry describes how undignified and painful this must have been for her. Yet, it did not deter her from going to worship God:

She had an infirmity, which an evil spirit, by divine permission, had brought upon her, which was such that she was bowed together by strong convulsions, and could in no wise lift up herself; and, having been so long thus, the disease was incurable; she could not stand erect, which is reckoned man’s honour above the beasts. Observe, Though she was under this infirmity, by which she was much deformed, and made to look mean, and not only so, but, as is supposed, motion was very painful to her, yet she went to the synagogue on the sabbath day. Note, Even bodily infirmities, unless they be very grievous indeed, should not keep us from public worship on the sabbath days; for God can help us, beyond our expectation.

MacArthur says that she would have been an outcast, because the Jews believed that a physical malady was a divine judgement:

Believe me, this woman was an outcast. The Jews had the…the theological viewpoint that if this was the condition you were in, you were a bad person.

Remember the blind man in John 9, and who sinned, this man or his parents? Remember Job? All his friends said well, Job, you’ve done something wrong. There’s some sin in your life. You’re not coming clean, buddy. That’s why you got all the suffering. The basic view of theology was if you suffer, you’re being punished by God. So here was a woman, who for eighteen years, had been looked at and scorned. Here was a woman doubled over in a terrible position physically, perhaps a more a terrible position socially. And to boot, she’s a woman. And women belonged out of sight and in the back of the synagogue.

Henry says that she had her crippling condition ‘by divine permission’. MacArthur agrees that Jesus was meant to heal her in front of the people at that synagogue to point out the hypocrisy of the Jewish religion of that era:

Jesus was the master of the moment, the sovereign Lord of every event and He’s going to use this woman to intensify the conflict and to bring it out in bold relief

I don’t know how it was that she exposed herself to this demon or why this demon picked on her or why Satan did this to her at the front. I don’t know what the motive of hell was, but I do know that God allowed that to happen for this day.

From the very beginning in the synagogues, Jesus told the people and their local leaders who He was and that, in turn, enraged many:

And that’s why after they killed Him, the population of Jerusalem then went after the apostles, to stop this message. And what was it they hated about the message? Well, what they hated about the message was the indictment in it because it overturned their whole view. There are only two ways that you can believe you can come to God; either on the merits of Christ or on your own merits. It’s either by grace and grace alone or it’s by works or some mixture of grace and works. It’s only two things. There’s only two kinds of religion in the world. The religion of divine accomplishment, the religion of human achievement, Christianity, the true gospel is the religion of divine accomplishment: God does it all, you simply believe. Every other religious system in the world is a religion of human achievement. They were in human achievement. They had satisfied themselves with their own self-righteousness. They had self-esteem. They had all this pride about their religion, etc., etc., etc., and Jesus literally struck at the very heart of the system

And Jesus went everywhere preaching salvation and that’s synonymous with coming into the kingdom. Come into God’s kingdom. “I am the way, the truth, the life.” But you have to recognize that you’re not there now, that you’re in the devil’s kingdom. Well, that was just more than they could bear. They hated Him for that. And so He was teaching in the synagogue and you know what He was teaching. He was teaching about the kingdom. And it wasn’t a brutal kind of teaching. It was gracious. It was compassionate. It was loving. It was merciful. It offered them salvation, but at the same time, it confronted the phoniness of their system, and the false hopes of their self-righteous, legalistic hearts.

And so this obviously set up conflict. And wherever the truth is taught, it produces conflict if it’s taught in a place where error prevails.

When Jesus saw the lady, He called her over and told her she was ‘set free’ from her ailment (verse 12).

He laid His hands on her and, immediately, she stood up straight and began to praise God (verse 13).

Note the word ‘immediately’. When Jesus healed, it was instantaneous and all-encompassing. It was not gradual. For many years and for whatever reason, I was never sure if the healing was immediate or gradual. And I was going to church all that time.

MacArthur makes it very clear:

He always healed immediately. There’s no such thing as a lingering healing, a multiple phase healing. There’s no such thing as: I was healed and slowly, I’m getting better. He healed everything, everyone He wanted to heal, completely, instantaneously, and permanently. And it says immediately laying His hands upon her and saying what He said, she was made erect again.

Now, we’ll tell you this is more than just the casting out of a demon. Something had to happen to a spine to go up straight after 18 years in a bent position. You say whoa boy, after she was healed, she would need some serious therapy. Nobody healed by Jesus needs therapy, nobody. It’s contained in the deal. You bypass the therapy to the wholeness in the instant of the healing. All His miracles were like that.

MacArthur says of the woman and our Lord’s purpose:

Now all of a sudden she becomes the centerpiece of the whole day. And Jesus puts her front and center and makes her the focal point of everything. And I love this about Him. He… He reveals His utter indifference to their system of rank and status. He reveals His utter indifference to their perception of privilege. He reveals His complete indifference to their sense…sense of achievement. He had no affection for their honor system. He honors the outcast woman and He humiliates the ruler. He has no affection for their perverted Sabbath. And He supersedes their authority with His own. He has no interest in their self-righteousness, seeking to be elevated. And He elevates one they would seek to sweep away.

However, the leader of the synagogue was indignant because Jesus had cured someone on the sabbath, calling His merciful miracle ‘work’, telling the congregation that such things should be done on the other six days in the week (verse 14).

It sounds so cruel and so awful.

Henry points out that the leader did not dare to speak directly to Christ, so he addressed the congregation instead:

He had not indeed the impudence to quarrel with Christ; but he said to the people, reflecting upon Christ in what he said, There are six days in which men ought to work, in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. See here how light he made of the miracles Christ wrought, as if they were things of course, and no more than what quacks and mountebanks did every day: “You may come and be healed any day of the week.” Christ’s cures were become, in his eyes, cheap and common things. See also how he stretches the law beyond its intention, or any just construction that could be put upon it, in making either healing or being healed with a touch of the hand, or a word’s speaking, to be that work which is forbidden on the sabbath day. This was evidently the work of God; and, when God tied us out from working that day, did he tie himself out? The same word in Hebrew signifies both godly and merciful (chesed), to intimate that works of mercy and charity are in a manner works of piety (1 Tim 5 4) and therefore very proper on sabbath days.

MacArthur says:

the synagogue official, he was an establishment man and he was going to wield the club and he was going to make it as tough as he couldLegalists do that, you knowThey have little or no compassion for the suffering, and legalistic religion is harsh and brutal and merciless and loveless.  This is sort of the archetypal legalist.  He’s just seen a woman, a woman who needed mercy and compassion and tenderness and kindness, released.  You would have thought he would have joined in on the chorus and said let’s all stand and sing glory to God.  But Luke describes him with one word: synagogue official, indignant, aganakteō in the Greek text, intense displeasure.

They’ve broken the system.  That by the way is exactly how the system felt about Martin Luther and everybody else who violated the system: anger, displeasure. Jesus had already unmasked and confronted error that day.  He’d already unmasked and confronted the demon that day and now He was going to unmask false religion and boy He did. That’s the reaction of a man who has no heart, a man whose heart God has never changed. That’s not a godly reaction, because God is a God of compassion, is He not?  Do you ever ask why did Jesus come and heal?  Jesus could have done a lot of miracles to prove He was God.  He could have done anything, right?  He could have created a house.  He could have created a temple.  He could have created a mountain, could have caused the sea to disappear.  Could have spun up in the air and spun around like a helicopter and flown around and landed.

Could have done a lot of things to prove He was God.  What did He do?  He healed people and He healed and basically banished illness from Israel.  Why?  Because He was not only showing divine power, but He was showing the heart of God as a heart of what?  Compassion.  But this is compassionless legalism.  They make people suffer. 

Jesus rebuked the leader and the congregation, calling them hypocrites and asking them whether they untie their ox or donkey on the sabbath in order for the beasts to get their water (verse 15).

MacArthur says:

Well, He got them, because they did that.

In fact, in the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish rabbinic law, it prescribes that you can do that. You can take your animal if you put no burden on his back and lead him to water or to eat. It even gives you a maximum of 200 cubits that you can go. And they even have some prescription about how wide the well is so you can see how they encumbered these things. But it was perfectly fine to do that. You phonies!

And by the way, this isn’t the first time He said this or the last. Calling them hypocrites was pretty routine because that’s what they are and all advocates of false religion are hypocrites. They don’t know God. They don’t know the truth. They are really the tools of Satan. It’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s the truth. You’re a phony, He said.

Jesus then asked why the woman, one of their own — ‘a daughter of Abraham’ — should be prevented from being set free from her bondage on the sabbath (verse 16).

MacArthur says that Jesus used a Jewish reasoning method:

Verse 16, “And this woman, a daughter of Abraham, as she is,” a Jewess, He says the same thing in Luke 19 about Zaccheus, a son of Abraham. It means a Jew or Jewess. “She’s one of your own people.” This is not a Gentile. “This woman, a daughter of Abraham, as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years,” Jesus says, emphasizing the terrible duration of this suffering, “should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

He takes the opposite view. This is the perfect day to do this, set her free. This is the best day to do that. And by what category was this work? What was the work? Jesus saying, “Woman you are freed from this weakness”? Or was the work her standing up? What was the work? It’s a very common way for the Jews to reason all through the New Testament from the lesser to the greater, from the animal to the woman, from bound for eighteen years to being released from being tied up to being freed. This was a great moment in the life of that woman.

When Jesus spoke those words, the leader and those who agreed with him were put to shame and the entire crowd rejoiced at all the marvellous things that Jesus was doing (verse 17).

MacArthur analyses the two responses — shame from one quarter and rejoicing from the other:

Verse 17 sums up the result.  “And as He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated.”  Boy they hated that.  What could they say?  They were dead in their tracks.  The people knew what could be done on the Sabbath.  Believe me they knew it well and they knew that they…they watered and fed their animals on the Sabbath.  They knew that.  And I’m sure they were trying to figure out where was the work here.  They had been unmasked.  They had been stripped.  Their pretense had been uncovered.  They looked like fools.  They were… They were put to shame.  That’s a compound verb, kataischunō, they were fully shamed, publicly; both that ruler and all who agreed with him, called the opponents of Jesus.  They were all shamed.  They were all humiliated. Now they weren’t humbled in the righteous sense.  They didn’t become penitent and say wow, I am a hypocrite.  I need to deal with this.  I…maybe this is Son of God.  Not that.  All this did was make them more angry and more bent on getting Jesus out of the picture.

But there was another response.  Look at the rest of verse 17, the entire multitude, those left “was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.”  They were just absolutely blown away by what was happening.  And I’m sure some of them who were there were already the followers of Jesus.  Some may have been believers in Him.  But this is their typical response.  Back in Chapter 9, verse 43, they were all amazed at the greatness of God.  Everyone was marveling at all that He was doing. I mean, that was pretty much the typical response.  They were just stunned and floored by it.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that they put their full trust in Christ.  We could wish that that were true.  Some did.  Chapter 16, verse 16, some were pressing into the kingdom.  And it is true in verse 31 of chapter 13, look at that, verse 31 of chapter 13, some of the Pharisees actually came to Jesus and told Him to go away and depart for Herod wants to kill you.  There may have been some among the Pharisees who were beginning to see the light.

MacArthur reminds us that Jesus preached only about the kingdom of God, not social or political issues:

He always preached the kingdom. Thirty-one times in the book of Luke the kingdom of God is mentioned. And even after His resurrection, before His ascension and the forty days it says He spoke to them things pertaining to the kingdom of God. It was always about God’s kingdom, how to become a part of His kingdom, by confessing Jesus as Lord, Messiah, Savior.

He also raised — and will continue to raise — the lowly, like this woman:

The Lord passes by the religious and self-righteous, passes by those that say and think they’re good, passes by the religious leaders, and the Lord chooses the lowest of the low. One who would have been deemed to have been a sinner of some massive proportions to have suffered such a fate. He ignores the proud and He chooses the humble. The Lord sovereignly chooses. The Lord sovereignly delivers. The Lord sovereignly straightens up the one who is bent over. The Lord sovereignly produces praise.

This woman then is a picture of the sovereign work of the Lord in salvation, a picture of the enslaved, oppressed sinner under the burden and bondage of Satan, hiding in the shadows, aware every moment of suffering the weight and the burden of sin hopeless, robbed of dignity, bent over like an animal, the image of God defaced. So is the picture of the sinner shuffling one day into the presence of God to hear the word of God. She is met by the Lord and He out of His sovereign love delivers her, straightens her up. This is the picture of the work of God in salvation. God offers salvation to the outcast, the humbled, those bent over by the weight of sin, who will come and hear Him and He will turn them into true worshipers and He bypasses the curious and the self-righteous.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Third Sunday after Trinity is July 3, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.

10:2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

10:3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.

10:4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.

10:5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’

10:6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.

10:7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.

10:8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;

10:9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

10:10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,

10:11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

10:16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

10:17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

10:18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.

10:19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.

10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long exegesis requiring a cup of tea and perhaps a snack.

Today’s reading follows on from last week’s, which was about the Samaritans’ rejection of our Lord’s planned visit, the fury of James and his brother John at the refusal and the Lord’s subsequent refusal to accept three potential disciples.

What we learned about Luke 9 was that it represents a turning point in Luke’s account. Jesus has but one year of ministry left; what we discover through to Luke 19 is how He trains and prepares His disciples for His imminent death.

‘After this’ — meaning after Jesus turned down the three offers of discipleship from men who were deeply flawed with internal conflicts — He appointed 70 — some translations say 72 — disciples, sending them in pairs to towns and places where He intended to visit (verse 1).

These disciples were heralds, or, in today’s parlance, advance men.

There are some numbers in the Bible that are referred to as divine numbers, because they have a religious significance. The number three is significant for the Persons of the Trinity. Twelve is another: the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains the significance of 70:

As in the choice of twelve apostles Christ had an eye to the twelve patriarchs, the twelve tribes, and the twelve princes of those tribes, so here he seems to have an eye to the seventy elders of Israel. So many went up with Moses and Aaron to the mount, and saw the glory of the God of Israel (Exod 24 1, 9), and so many were afterwards chosen to assist Moses in the government, in order to which the Spirit of prophecy came unto them, Num 11 24, 25. The twelve wells of water and the seventy palm-trees that were at Elim were a figure of the twelve apostles and the seventy disciples, Exod 15 27. They were seventy elders of the Jews that were employed by Ptolemy king of Egypt in turning the Old Testament into Greek, whose translation is thence called the Septuagint. The great sanhedrim consisted of this number.

In the beginning of Luke 9, Jesus had already given the Apostles His own gifts, sending them out to preach and heal. Now it is the turn of these 70 or 72 disciples.

Jesus sent them out in pairs for mutual support: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Jesus said that the harvest was plentiful but the workers to gather it were few; therefore, it was important to ask the Lord of the harvest for more labourers to gather the harvest (verse 2).

Henry says that the harvest refers to lost souls, those whom the Jewish hierarchy neglected. The disciples were to bring them to salvation, especially with the presence of Christ in the region:

They must be duly affected with the necessities of the souls of men, which called for their help. They must look about, and see how great the harvest was, what abundance of people there were that wanted to have the gospel preached to them and were willing to receive it, nay, that had at this time their expectations raised of the coming of the Messiah and of his kingdom. There was corn ready to shed and be lost for want of hands to gather it in. Note, Ministers should apply themselves to their work under a deep concern for precious souls, looking upon them as the riches of this world, which ought to be secured for Christ. They must likewise be concerned that the labourers were so few. The Jewish teachers were indeed many, but they were not labourers; they did not gather in souls to God’s kingdom, but to their own interest and party. Note, Those that are good ministers themselves wish that there were more good ministers, for there is work for more. It is common for tradesmen not to care how few there are of their own trade; but Christ would have the labourers in his vineyard reckon it a matter of complaint when the labourers are few. (2.) They must earnestly desire to receive their mission from God, that he would send them forth as labourers into his harvest who is the Lord of the harvest, and that he would send others forth; for, if God send them forth, they may hope he will go along with them and give them success. Let them therefore say, as the prophet (Isa 6 8), Here I am, send me. It is desirable to receive our commission from God, and then we may go on boldly.

Matthew’s account also includes our Lord’s mention of the harvest.

John MacArthur tells us about that and the gut-wrenching compassion that Jesus, in His humanity, felt for the lost souls:

Go back to verse 35, Matthew 9:35.  Jesus was going about all the cities, all the villages, and this is in Galilee.  And He was teaching in their synagogues.  He was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, healing every kind of disease, every kind of sickness.  “And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.'” That statement was born of His compassion. It was born of His compassion.  Everywhere the Lord went in His ministry, and particular in Galilee, but everywhere else the Lord went in His ministry, He was moved with compassion.

For example, if you go through Matthew, you see Matthew 14:14 in addition to this, Matthew 15:32, Matthew 18:27, Matthew 20 verse 34, and it will say, “The Lord was moved with compassion, the Lord felt compassion.”  Luke 7:13, “The Lord was moved with compassion.”  And again other places in Luke; this is just a sampling.  The Lord moved through His ministry literally overcome with compassion.

Now this word is the strongest word for “compassion” in the language, the Greek language.  It refers to a deeply felt sympathy.  It refers to a deep pain that comes from empathy or affection.  You feel this one.  It actually comes from a root word that has to do with abdominal painYou feel it in the pit of your stomach where suffering emotions are felt even by folks like us.  What it’s saying is the Lord felt an aching in His stomach.  It is to say the Lord was nauseated physically.  You see Him, for example, at the tomb of Lazarus in the 11th chapter of John and the picture of Him there is first He’s sobbing and then He’s groaning, and then He bursts out into tears and then He shudders over the plight of sinners when He sees the reality of a dead Lazarus and a weeping Mary and Martha.  And it’s not all this agony simply over Lazarus and Mary and Martha because He was going to raise him from the dead and stop all the pain, but it’s the agony of seeing that as an illustration of the horrendous suffering in the world.  Lazarus was an illustration of what all of humanity goes through.  And Jesus literally sobbed, groaned, burst into tears, and shuddered with agony

MacArthur tells us of the horrifying plight of the lost souls, the lost sheep, that Jesus saw through that compassion:

Isaiah said about Him, “He would be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”  And Matthew, as I said, uses the strongest word for “compassion,” one that indicates that the Lord had a deep ache, a pain, a nauseating churning in His stomach over the future condition of the unregenerate, as well as their present state.  Look back at that passage in Matthew.  It says He saw them as distressed and downcast, eskylmenoi and errimmenoi. Those two words mean worn out, exhausted, or literally flayed, skinned, like sheep whose shepherds had not only exhausted them, not fed them, but then flayed them, as it were, injured them, wounded them.  The second word, errimmenoi, means thrown down, lying prostrate, totally helplessHe looked at the sheep of the shepherds of Israel, the scribes and the Pharisees and religious leaders and their sheep were not healthy, they were not well fed, they were not well watered, they were not well cared for, they were literally wounded and injured, they had been attacked and assaulted and left for near dead by their evil false shepherdsAnd these people would have some kind of vague craving for satisfaction and not have any idea how to find it.  As Psalm 111:4 says, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion.” That’s describing God, and here is God in human flesh and His heart is literally achingOn another occasion He wept over the city of Jerusalem, the ache was so profound.  He looks at the people of Israel and He sees them like flayed, mangled corpses.  They’re sort of like road kill sheep who have been totally destroyed by their own shepherds.  And there they lie bewildered and desolate.  They have been treated mercilessly.  They have been devoured by their own shepherds, as Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13.  And so He is so overwhelmed with sympathy for them that He says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”

However, there is another meaning to ‘harvest’ and that is one of burning chaff during the time of reaping. The farmer saves the good crops and burns whatever was unproductive. This refers to judgement.

MacArthur has more:

The Jews knew about a harvest. They knew about a harvest. The prophets had talked about a harvest. In fact, Joel chapter 3 verse 12, “Let the nations be aroused and come to the valley of Jehoshaphat. I’ll sit to judge and all the surrounding nations, put in the sickle for the harvest is ripe. Come tread, for the winepress is full, the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision, for the Day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon grew dark. The stars lost their brightness as the Lord roars from Zion.” That…That’s the harvest. It’s the harvest of the final judgment. And that’s why the compassion of the Lord is excited because He sees these people on a path to devastation. He sees them not only in their stricken condition, but in their disastrous future. He looks ahead, down human history, as it were, and He sees many who will be literally devastated, depressed and destroyed by false leaders, false shepherds. And His heart aches over them because they’re headed for the final harvest and it is a harvest of judgment. The New Testament follows that imagery. The Lord Himself in Matthew 13 verse 30 talks about the wheat and the tares growing together and He says they will grow together until the harvest. And the time of harvest will come, I’ll say to the reapers, “Gather up the tares. Bind them in bundles to burn them. But gather the wheat into My barn.” Again, the harvest is the end of the age when the angels gather together God’s people and put them in His kingdom, that’s the barn, and gathers together the ungodly and they burn forever in hell. That is clearly explained later in Matthew 13 verse 39. “The enemy who sowed the tares is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, they’ll gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, all those who commit lawlessness, cast them into the furnace of fire. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That’s the harvest … It’s not a harvest that we often think about like there are all those souls that need to be harvested for the gospel. That’s not the imagery. The imagery is this, these unredeemed, unconverted people, deceived and left destitute by their false religious leaders and fake shepherds, are headed toward a harvest of judgment and it is a massive harvest. It is a worldwide harvest. It reminds us again that few there be that find the narrow way. The mass of humanity are headed toward a divine harvest.

And in verse 14 of chapter 14 of Revelation, we read further and more specifically about that harvest. Listen to these gripping words, “I looked and behold, a white cloud. Sitting on the cloud was one like a Son of Man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.” That was the tool of harvest. “And another angel came out of the temple crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle and reap because the hour to reap has come because the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth and the earth was reaped.” The next few verses carry the imagery. “Another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven. He also had a sharp sickle and another angel, one who had the power over fire came out of the altar and called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle and said, ‘Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth because the grapes are ripe.’ And the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth and threw them into the great winepress of the wrath of God.”

The harvest is associated with wrath. Wrath at the end of the tribulation, wrath at any point at the coming of Jesus Christ, it is the wrath of God at the end of time. And so the Lord looks at the people and His heart is just overturned. He is literally sick in His stomach because He sees the future all the way out to the great, horrific wrath of the final harvest. And to compound the matter, back to verse 2, the laborers are few. You’ve got this mass of humanity moving toward judgment and only a few laborers, only a few.

Therefore, prayer was — and remains — important:

That leads to a second essential motive and that is prayer.  You stand there and say, “Well how are we going to do anything about it?”  And the Lord says in verse 2, “Therefore,” in consequence, “beseech,” beg, plead with “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”  You don’t just pray for the salvation of people. You do that, 1 Timothy 2 makes it clear. “Pray for all men, for kings and those in authority, and everybody else to be saved.” You don’t just do that though. You pray that the Lord will raise up more missionaries, that the Lord will save more and send more.  By the way, the Lord of the harvest, isn’t that an interesting phrase?  Who is the Lord of the harvest?  The judge.  John 5:22 to 29 says, “The Father has committed all judgment to Christ.”  So Christ is going to be the judge.  Christ is the executioner.  This is amazing.  The Lord Himself, the Lord of the harvest says, “Pray to Me and ask Me to send laborers to go out to deliver people from Me.”  It’s amazing.  It is the Lord Himself in 2 Thessalonians 1, the Lord Jesus, who is “revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  It is Jesus who is the Lord of the harvest.  It is Jesus who is the one who comes back with the sword in his mouth.  It is Jesus who brings the sickle along with the angels who attend His return.  It is Jesus who is the judge.  It is Jesus who is the executionerAnd it is also Jesus who is the one who hears your prayer and sends the people to deliver those who are perishing from His execution.  You can put it this way. Pray to Jesus to send somebody to deliver people from Jesus.  Pray to the Son of God and ask Him to send more messengers to reach this great harvest to deliver them from the Son of God.  Saved from what?  Saved from hell, yes.  But saved primarily from the God who sends you there and the God who sends you there has delegated that authority to His Son, so the Son says, “Pray to Me and ask Me to send messengers to preach a gospel so sinners can be delivered from Me.”  Amazing.  Amazing depth and profundity.

Jesus told His disciples to go on their way; He was sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves (verse 3).

In other words, they were to expect rejection, possibly persecution.

However, as Henry says, one of the gifts that Jesus gave the disciples was courage, which would give them fortitude and perseverance:

They must set out with an expectation of trouble and persecution: “Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves; but go your ways, and resolve to make the best of it. Your enemies will be as wolves, bloody and cruel, and ready to pull you to pieces; in their threatenings and revilings, they will be as howling wolves to terrify you; in their persecutions of you, they will be as ravening wolves to tear you. But you must be as lambs, peaceable and patient, though made an easy prey of.” It would have been very hard thus to be sent forth as sheep among wolves, if he had not endued them with his spirit and courage.

In the next several verses, Jesus, as He did with the Twelve, instructs the disciples on how to evangelise, beginning with their personal behaviours.

They were not to carry any purse — money bag — or bag for clothes and possessions, no extra pair of sandals; furthermore, He told them not to greet anyone along the way (verse 4).

With regard to material possessions, they were to go with what they had on them already and nothing more. They were to trust that He would ensure they would have what they needed.

With regard to refusing to greet strangers along the way, this refers not to a simple greeting of ‘Hello’ or ‘Good day’ but developing a relationship with people, which could prove to be a distraction.

MacArthur says that Jesus implied urgency with these instructions:

The Lord just collects seventy who have denied themselves, taken up their cross, followed Him. They are genuine and true believers. They have entered into His kingdom. That’s enough, go your way and tell them I’m coming. The mission is immediate. It is urgent. The time is short. The cross is only months away. There are many, many, many villages and towns all across Judea and Perea, across the Jordan, that need to be ready for His coming and they need a full explanation of who He is so that when He gets there they’ll be ready to receive what He has to say. Evangelism is immediate. And I say this, if you are a Christian, I don’t care if you were saved five years ago or you were saved yesterday, start today with your ministry of evangelism. It’s urgent. Today is the day of salvation, 2 Corinthians 6. This is the time, don’t wait.

Henry cites a precedent in the Old Testament for going on a mission without a bag and not to greet strangers along the way:

They must not encumber themselves with a load of provisions, as if they were going a long voyage, but depend upon God and their friends to provide what was convenient for them: “Carry neither a purse for money, nor a scrip or knapsack for clothes or victuals, nor new shoes (as before to the twelve, ch. 9 3); and salute no man by the way.This command Elisha gave to his servant, when he sent him to see the Shunamite’s dead child, 2 Kings 4 29. Not that Christ would have his ministers to be rude, morose, and unmannerly; but, (1.) They must go as men in haste, that had their particular places assigned them, where they must deliver their message, and in their way directly to those places must not hinder or retard themselves with needless ceremonies or compliments. (2.) They must go as men of business, business that relates to another world, which they must be intent in, and intent upon, and therefore must not entangle themselves with conversation about secular affairs. Minister verbi est; hoc age—You are a minister of the word; attend to your office. (3.) They must go as serious men, and men in sorrow. It was the custom of mourners, during the first seven days of their mourning, not to salute any, Job 2 13. Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and it was fit that by this and other signs his messengers should resemble him, and likewise show themselves affected with the calamities of mankind which they came to relieve, and touched with a feeling of them.

MacArthur tells us more about the ancient meeting of greeting someone:

greeting in the ancient Near East was a big event kind of thing. You stayed and you got involved. Don’t depend on friendships to sustain you. Don’t depend on making relationships with people so that they provide for you. Don’t…don’t go the human route. Just go, don’t stop to make relationships, and know this, I will provide even if you have no human relationships to depend on. That’s the great lesson of trust. You’re going to have to be cared for by strangers you don’t even know, people you haven’t even cultivated a relationship with. This is just trust. You go, you trust, wherever God sends you, you go, you preach the gospel, you leave the results to the Lord. If you have nothing, you go, He provides. If you have everything, you go, you use what you have and if you ever come to a point where you have need, you know He’s going to step in and make provision. Don’t worry about the friendship side of it. Keep the message clear … But it is interesting that this was not friendship evangelism which may be…some people may overrate. I think friendship evangelism is good, you should evangelize your friends, but I don’t think you should wait to evangelize someone until after you’ve made a friendship. I don’t think that’s necessary. People are saved by the power of the gospel, not by the power of a friendship.

Jesus told them about where they were to stay and how to handle the initial greeting at those homes.

The disciples were to proclaim peace to that house (verse 5). If someone there shared in that peace, it remained with them, but if someone refused the offer of peace, it would return to the disciples (verse 6).

Henry says:

“You will meet with others that are no ways disposed to hear or heed your message, whole houses that have not one son of peace in them.” Now it is certain that our peace shall not come upon them, they have no part nor lot in the matter; the blessing that rests upon the sons of peace shall never come upon the sons of Belial, nor can any expect the blessings of the covenant that will not come under the bonds of it. But it shall return to us again; that is, we shall have the comfort of having done our duty to God and discharged our trust. Our prayers like David’s shall return into our own bosom (Ps 35 13) and we shall have commission to go on in the work. Our peace shall return to us again, not only to be enjoyed by ourselves, but to be communicated to others, to the next we meet with, them that are sons of peace.

Where they did find a home of peace, the disciples were to stay there and not seek another abode; they were to eat and drink what was provided, as that was to be their only wage (verses 7, 8).

Henry says that we should learn not to be fussy about our hosts’ food nor, as did some of the ancient Jews, enter into rigid beliefs about nourishment:

Be thankful for plain food, and do not find fault, though it be not dressed according to art.” It ill becomes Christ’s disciples to be desirous of dainties. As he has not tied them up to the Pharisees’ superstitious fasts, so he has not allowed the luxurious feasts of the Epicureans. Probably, Christ here refers to the traditions of the elders about their meat which were so many that those who observed them were extremely critical, you could hardly set a dish of meat before them, but there was some scruple or other concerning it; but Christ would not have them to regard those things, but eat what was given them, asking no question for conscience’ sake.

MacArthur has more about our Lord’s proscription on moving from house to house and taking a wage. That is how false prophets made their money:

This was all about authenticating the integrity of the messengers because it was very typical of false prophets, false teachers everywhere who were itinerant, they were like ants, they were all over everywhere And they were looking for the…for the most comfortable situation They were looking for the place where they could get the most money.  They would go into a place; they would go into a home. They would take whatever the home had to offer They would then go somewhere else They would keep moving up the ladder, taking money from as many as they could and bettering their circumstances That was the pattern.  False teachers are always in it for the money They’re always in it for filthy lucre How often do you meet a false teacher, long-term false teacher who hasn’t managed to make money off his lies and deceptions?  That’s why they do what they do.  Some of them make an awful lot.

Typically the itinerant preachers would take advantage of as many people as they could, as many houses as they could and as many comforts as were available Jesus says when you find a worthy place, you find a son of peace, for the sake of fellowship, for the sake of comfort, for the sake of discipleship and for the sake of integrity and sincerity and honesty and as an example that sets you apart from false teachers, stay there, don’t seek a better place Don’t seek any other food than what they give you.  If the food is meager, so be it; if it’s unappetizing, tough luck.  If it’s different than you’re used to, you’ll have to learn to endure it.  Whether it’s clean or unclean, whether it’s idol food, whether it’s a Jewish house or a Gentile house, stay there, accept the accommodations and accept the food Don’t be discontent.  Let them see that you live for the peace gospel; you don’t live for your own personal gain This will set you apart from false teachers very rapidly.

Jesus said that, where people accepted them, the disciples were to cure the sick telling them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ (verse 9).

What does that message mean?

MacArthur says that the kingdom of God is moving throughout human history, but especially for those sons and daughters of peace, because the long-awaited Messiah was in their midst and would be in person soon:

It has arrived. Eggiz is the Greek verb. It has arrived and nothing can stop it I don’t know if I can give you the picture, but the kingdom is moving and it’s moving through human history and finally the acceptable year of the Lord has arrived, the Messiah is here, the kingdom has come in the fullness of the very King Himself And for the people who were sons of peace, this was the fulfillment of all their dreams, all their aspirations, all their hopes, all their longings, all their desires The kingdom had come for their peace The kingdom had come for their peace.  It’s here now today and for all who believe in the King and submit their lives to Him, all who repent of sin, trust Christ and submit to Him, they enter into the kingdom.  The kingdom is peace to them.  We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  When you embrace the King, you enter the kingdom of peace.

However, for those places that did not welcome the disciples (verse 10), Jesus told them to shake the dust off their feet in that place — in the traditional Jewish way — and warn them, ‘Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near’ (verse 11).

That warning was to be made public, as MacArthur explains:

Don’t steal away quietly in the night. “Go out in the streets and say…” Go right in the middle of the street in that place and make a public announcement.  Expose that rejection at the widest level possible.

The idea is not to pronounce some quiet judgment on rejecters but a public judgment.  Declare openly God’s absolute displeasure with that rejection Make it as public as it possibly can be made.  And make it known that they have rejected the King and the kingdom of peace and then say this, verse 11, “Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.” Can you imagine that vivid thing going on?  They stand in the middle of the town wiping off the dirt from that town from their feet?  That in the ancient Near East was the most demonstrative expression of disdain.  When the Jews went into a Gentile country and came back, they shook the dust off their garments. They washed the dust off their feet so they didn’t bring Gentile dust into the holy land.  That showed their hatred, their disdain for the Gentiles.  And here are the servants of the King, the kingdom messengers, missionaries who came in with the message of grace and a message of peace and a message of salvation and they leave town with a message of judgment, of warning, of condemnation, of disdain, a message literally of punishment We will have nothing to do with you and symbolically, of course, and neither will the King, except to treat you in this same way with the same disdain and the same rejection that you have treated Him.  “If they don’t receive you” means as back in chapter 9 verse 5, “as for those who do not receive you as you go out from that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”  The apostles did it and now the seventy are doing it Show God’s displeasure openly before the whole town and do it with an abject lesson.

MacArthur says that this applies even today:

It is literally the testimony of God against those rejecters that they are acting out.  You can’t let people sort of come into the church and hear the gospel, or go to them and give them the gospel and then they don’t receive and quietly go away It demands a strong, final gesture, effort, proclamation of the reality of the implications of that rejection That is the last appeal, you see.  You have to understand what you’re doing.

As I was saying in talking to a prominent person not too long ago, at the end of our two-hour conversation, I just said, “You have to understand the consequences. You have to understand the consequences.  To reject Jesus Christ is to be rejected by Jesus Christ and that is to spend all eternity in torment in the punishments of hell.”  I don’t discharge my responsibility if I don’t say that That in itself, while a statement of judgment, is also a last appeal.

So this is the message and this is the messenger’s responsibility Find those who hear, give them the truth, and the kingdom will come in peace.  When you find those who don’t hear, you give them the truth and the kingdom will still come but will come in punishment.  Look at the end of verse 11, how interesting, “Yet be sure of this,” even where a rejection occurs, “be sure of this, the kingdom of God has come near.”  You know, the picture is this, folks, the kingdom of God is moving inexorably through history and you are either getting swept up in the kingdom or crushed by it That’s it.  It is the dominant reality in existence in the spiritual realm.  The kingdom of God is moving. It is moving through the world and it is gathering those who bow to the King in peace and it is crushing those who reject it.  That is the gospel It is good newsBut it is the worst news to those who refuse it The kingdom moves.  Preach the kingdom.  It’s no effort to change the strategy.  There’s no effort to…nothing here that says, “You know if they reject you, go back and retool the gospel.  Hang around and make some friends.”  It doesn’t say that.  Give the gospel, the gospel is the gospel When heard is either believed or rejected When believed it brings peace When rejected it brings punishment But be sure of this, you will not avoid the kingdom.  You will not avoid the King.  Every human being, whoever has lived on the planet will stand one day before the King and either that King will say, “Enter into the joy of your Lord,” or He will say, “Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity.”  But He will render the final judgment on everyone because there’s only one King in the world, there’s only one King in the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  His kingdom is for peace or it is for punishment It is for salvation, forgiveness and heaven, or sin, guilt, judgment and hell.  We are this generation’s kingdom missionaries and God calls us to this same challenging task.

Now we get into some of the Lectionary’s sins, the omitted verses. Their omission proves MacArthur’s point. We can’t just have the positives, we also have to have the warnings. Here they are:

12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[b]

In verse 12, Jesus meant that any town that rejected His imminent arrival and the word of His disciples would suffer a worse judgement than Sodom.

Henry says that this is because Sodom rejected Lot’s warnings but these towns were rejecting the Messiah and Lord of all who was ministering to the people:

The Sodomites indeed rejected the warning given them by Lot; but rejecting the gospel is a more heinous crime, and will be punished accordingly in that day. He means the day of judgment (v. 14), but calls it, by way of emphasis, that day, because it is the last and great day, the day when we must account for all the days of time, and have our state determined for the days of eternity.

As for verses 13 through 15, you can read more about the significance of our Lord’s mention of them. This is my post from Forbidden Bible Verses, which are also Essential Bible Verses:

Luke 10:13-15 – condemned towns: Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum; Sodom, Tyre and Sidon

Because the people in these towns actually saw and heard Him, yet disbelieved or were indifferent, Jesus says their punishment will be greater than that of Sodom, Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus explained the judgement by saying that whoever rejects the disciples rejects Him and that anyone who rejects Him rejects He who sent Him, meaning God the Father (verse 16).

MacArthur elaborates on the meaning of that verse:

If you think it’s going to be bad in eternity for the people who rejected the law of Moses, it’s going to be worse for the people who’ve rejected Jesus Christ.  There are degrees of punishment in eternityThere are degrees of suffering in hellAnd the more you know about the gospel and reject it, the severer will be your punishment.

To make it very practical, if you’re a non-believer, being in this church and hearing the gospel is high-risk behaviorYou’d be better off to climb Everest in a snowstorm or jump out of an airplane with a parachute with a huge hole in the middle of it.  Or better yet, jump out of an airplane with an umbrella than to sit in this church and listen to the gospel because the implications of rejecting it are so severe forever.  Don’t just come here, sit, know more and more about the gospel and continue in your rejection and not expect to be eternally held accountable for that rejection.  The severest eternal punishment belongs to those who rejected the most exposure to the gospel.

You say, “Why are you telling all this to us?”  Because this is exactly the point of the text.  Let’s go back to Luke 10.  This is the point of this text.  Let me pick up the text in verse 12, Luke 10:12.  “I say to you, it would be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city.  Woe to you, Chorazin, woe to you, Bethsaida, for if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago sitting in sack cloth and ashes.  But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you?  You will be brought down to Hades,” or hell.  “The one who listens to you listens to Me.  The one who rejects you rejects Me.  And he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”

The message here is very clearThere are comparative punishments in hell.  The more exposure you have to the glory of Christ, the more potential judgment you will receive if you reject it.

Turn over to the 11th chapter of Luke. This is not an isolated teaching from Jesus, it is oft repeatedIn the 11th chapter of Luke verse 29, the crowds were increasingHe began to say this generation is a wicked generation.  It seeks… It was a religious one, it was steeped in Judaistic religion, but it was wicked by Jesus’ judgment.  “It seeks for a sign and yet no sign shall be given it but the sign of Jonah for just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation.  The queen of the south shall rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”

This is an interesting statement.  Jesus is saying the queen of the south, the pagan, Gentile queen at least was so stunned and struck by the glory of Solomon as to come and give honor to Solomon, and here when a pagan woman gave honor to a great king like Solomon, she demonstrated the appropriate response to the glory of a man.  You, who are Jews, who are the people of God’s promise, cannot even give honor to one far greater than Solomon who comes to youAnd so in the Day of Judgment the queen of the south, that is to say a pagan, is going to stand up to your condemnation She showed an attitude toward a man that you didn’t even show toward the Son of God.  You’ll be condemned even by what she did.

Luke’s account then gives us a glimpse of joy as the disciples returned rejoicing that, when they invoked the Lord’s name, even the demons submitted to them (verse 17).

Henry says:

Though only the healing of the sick was mentioned in their commission (v. 19), yet no doubt the casting out of devils was included, and in this they had wonderful success. 1. They give Christ the glory of this: It is through thy name. Note, all our victories over Satan are obtained by power derived from Jesus Christ. We must in his name enter the lists with our spiritual enemies, and, whatever advantages we gain, he must have all the praise; if the work be done in his name, the honour is due to his name. 2. They entertain themselves with the comfort of it; they speak of it with an air of exultation: Even the devils, those potent enemies, are subject to us. Note, the saints have no greater joy or satisfaction in any of their triumphs than in those over Satan. If devils are subject to us, what can stand before us?

MacArthur expands on the theme of joy:

Joy is the operative word. We’re going to talk about joy here. The seventy returned with joy. Nobody died in this effort. They were willing. They came back and after going out in all these towns and being rejected in many places, being certainly put out of town, run off, having to give warnings, shake dust off their garments, pronounce judgment. They also had spiritual success. There also, as always, was a remnant out there that responded positively. They gave up their lives. They gave up their comfort, their money, their popularity. And what they got in return for that was joy. They returned after their first effort into these various towns and villages all over the place where Jesus was going to eventually come. And they were full of joy. And we ask the question immediately, “Where did the joy come from?” In the light of such a demanding call to discipleship, where did the joy come from? …

Reason number one: divine power over Satan’s kingdom, divine power over Satan’s kingdom. Verse 17, “And the seventy returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name'” …

The key phrase, “in Your name.” That is, by Your power. There was no other power that could command demons. You remember the exorcist in the 19th chapter of Acts, they were trying to cast out demons and the demons said, “Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are you?” You have no authority over us. It may…it may not have been that they even particularly went to cast out demons, it doesn’t say when it tells about the power they had back earlier in chapter 10. It says in verse 9, “They had power to heal the sick.” It doesn’t say specifically that they were given power to cast out demons, they may have been. But it may well have been that when they were preaching the gospel, the power of the gospel was delivering people who responded and believed and therefore the demons were thus overpowered and perhaps manifestly so. They saw the power of Christ flowing through them, conquering the power of Satan …

In other words, you’re going to invade the kingdom of darkness and rescue the souls of men and womenPaul says that was my commission and I was obedient to it.  Well who wouldn’t be?  What a calling.  And it’s true for us.  I mean, think of how your life really should matter.  When you go out and faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, you literally invade the kingdom of darkness to rescue the souls there.  Through your faithfulness to the proclamation of the message, the power of God flows to awaken the dead, give sight to the blind, and rescue the perishing as the old hymn put it, out of the kingdom of darkness, literally, Colossians 1:13, transferring them from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.  This is what we do.  Is that cause for joy?  To have your life matter like that?  What else matters?

Jesus said that He knew of their success against the powers of darkness, telling them that He saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning (verse 18).

MacArthur explains the Greek words from the original manuscript:

You guys were out there, you were preaching, people were hearing, they were being delivered.  I was watching.  I was watching, theōreō in the imperfect tense. I was a spectator continuously.  It’s not talking about a one-time event, the fall.  Not talking about a one-time event, the temptation.  Not talking about a one-time event, the future, although I think He saw the future fall of Satan in that.  I think that was in certainly in His mind and in His view.  But for this moment He was saying, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”  Have you ever been in a lightning storm?  Sha-koom! And then it’s black.  Sha-koom! And then it’s black.  Choo! And then it’s black. And choo! It’s black.  And I was watching you.  Satan in a final flash and then the soul was rescued and he was goneThen I saw it again.  Then I saw it again.  Then I saw it again.  Then I saw it again.

Jesus told the disciples that He had given them authority over all unpleasant beasts, such as snakes and scorpions — synonymous with evil spirits — and over the power of the enemy; therefore, nothing could hurt them (verse 19).

‘See’ in that verse is sometimes translated as ‘Behold’, an emphatic word that demands attention.

MacArthur has more on this verse:

The thought might be, “You know, we could get ourselves in trouble with the forces of hell and that might not be too good.”  So immediately in verse 19 Jesus says this, “Behold,” a startling fact is coming, that’s why He uses this term “behold.”  “Behold, I” love that, the divine sovereign Lord have given you, perfect tense in the past with continuing effect, I have permanently given you exousia, dominance, right, authority, “power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall injure you.”  Wow!  They might not like you and they might want to stop you but they can’t.  I, the sovereign divine Lord, have given you permanently as My own the power and dominance that gives you the right to tread upon serpents and scorpions.  Sounds like the Marine image, doesn’t it?  Serpents and scorpions… He’s not talking about the literal animals, bugsThat’s metaphorical for demonsSatan is viewed as a serpentIn the book of Revelation chapter 9, demons have tails like scorpions and a scorpion king over them. The angel of the abyss called Abaddon and Apollyon.  In Revelation 16 demons are like slimy frogs.  These deadly kinds of creatures, serpents and scorpions, are metaphors for the subtle, sneaky, deadly demons.  Those are well-known symbols, by the way, of evil spirits.

Jesus concluded by saying that, while that power was a real cause for joy, there was a greater one: the fact that their names were written in heaven (verse 20). Therefore, they would know salvation.

MacArthur explains the reference to names written in a book, an ancient custom of the time:

In Jewish thinking there was a Book of Life. Exodus 32:32 and 33 talks about it, Psalm 69:28 talks about it, Isaiah 4:3, Daniel 12:1, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 13:8. There was a Book of Life and God has written the names of His own in the book.  That’s the way they did it in ancient timesIn towns they had a book and all the citizens who were in good standing were in the bookGod has a book and all the citizens of heaven have their name thereAnd He says your names are there because you’re My true disciplesIf you’re going to rejoice supremely, rejoice in that.

I would like to close with an observation from MacArthur which is particularly pertinent to atheists and agnostics.

People have said to me, ‘He’s your God, not mine. I have nothing to fear from a so-called Last Judgement.’

MacArthur explains that unbelievers live in a kingdom, just as believers live in the kingdom of God. Both kingdoms will fall under divine judgement:

… when you become a Christian, you enter a kingdom.  In fact, the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:13 says you’re delivered out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son.  Lest people get the wrong idea, if you’re not in the kingdom of God, that doesn’t mean you’re free, you’re just in the kingdom of darkness and you’re under another sovereign, and that sovereign is Satan and you’re a slave to sin Everybody lives in a kingdom You just live in the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of light, the kingdom of Satan, or the kingdom of the Savior.  You live in a kingdom.  You are subject to the authority and the power of the enemy of your soul, or you are subject to the authority and power of the Savior of your soul.  You are either in the kingdom that ends up in hell, or the kingdom that ends up in heaven.  You’re either a slave to sin, or a servant of righteousness.  Don’t be under any illusion that somehow coming into the kingdom of God takes away all your freedom You really have no freedom except the freedom to sin You can choose your poison, that’s all.

This is how you must view the spiritual realities of life

I wish when we preached the gospel we talked more about it like that We talk so much about sharing Christ, like you’re inviting people to get in on something that’s the sort of superficially enjoyable What we’re asking people to do is to come into a kingdom and submit their lives entirely to a King, an absolute monarch who has the right to determine everything without our consultation and who has revealed His will to us in the pages of the Word of God and calls on us to live in absolute submission and obedience to that revelation.  It’s not about your self-satisfaction. It’s not about your self-promotion or your self-fulfillment. It says: We’ve been saying about self-submission and self-suicide, it’s the end of you because you’ve had enough of you. You refuse to associate any longer with the person you are.  You’re sick of the kingdom of darkness, you’re sick of the kingdom of sin and Satan and you are now ready to submit yourself to the benevolent, gracious, loving Lord and King Jesus Christ who will give you forgiveness of your sins and the promise of eternal blessing in His perfect kingdom.

There is a sense in which God is King over the whole universe, His kingdom rules over all, Psalm 103 says.  But we’re not talking about that sort of universal kingdom, the realm of His creation.  We’re talking about the spiritual kingdom in which He rules over the souls of those who have come to Him through Christ This is what we preach, but we preach a kingdom and nothing less and we preach a King and no one less and this King is an absolute monarch.  That is why it says in Romans 10 that if you want to be saved, you must confess Jesus as (what?) Lord.  And Lord is the name above every name.  Lord is the name in which every knee bows.  Lord is a synonym for King.

My sincere thanks to anyone who made it this far, however, this reading has several eternal truths which needed exposition and explanation.

May everyone have a blessed Sunday.

The First Sunday after Trinity is June 19, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 8:26-39

8:26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.

8:27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.

8:28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”

8:29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)

8:30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.

8:31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

8:32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.

8:33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

8:34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.

8:35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.

8:36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.

8:37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.

8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying,

8:39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is the famous story of the Gadarene Swine, covered in the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

I wrote about Matthew’s version in Forbidden Bible Verses and also in my Apologetics Corner series, here and here.

In Luke 8, just before this tremendous episode, Jesus had calmed a sea storm. The disciples had been terrified by its power. Jesus rebuked them for having such little faith.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states:

5. Christ’s business is to lay storms, as it is Satan’s business to raise them. He can do it; he has done it; he delights to do it: for he came to proclaim peace on earth. He rebuked the wind and the raging of the water, and immediately they ceased (v. 24); not, as at other times, by degrees, but all of a sudden, there was a great calm. Thus Christ showed that, though the devil pretends to be the prince of the power of the air, yet even there he has him in a chain.

6. When our dangers are over, it becomes us to take to ourselves the shame of our own fears and to give to Christ the glory of his power. When Christ had turned the storm into a calm, then were they glad because they were quiet, Ps 107 30. And then, (1.) Christ gives them a rebuke for their inordinate fear: Where is your faith? v. 25. Note, Many that have true faith have it to seek when they have occasion to use it. They tremble, and are discouraged, if second causes frown upon them. A little thing disheartens them; and where is their faith then? (2.) They give him the glory of his power: They, being afraid, wondered. Those that had feared the storm, now that the danger was over with good reason feared him that had stilled it, and said one to another, What manner of man is this! They might as well have said, Who is a God like unto thee? For it is God’s prerogative to still the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, Ps 65 7.

Henry introduces our Gospel reading:

II. His power over the devil, the prince of the power of the air. In the next passage of story he comes into a closer grapple with him than he did when he commanded the winds. Presently after the winds were stilled they were brought to their desired haven, and arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, and there went ashore (v. 26, 27); and he soon met with that which was his business over, and which he thought it worth his while to go through a storm to accomplish.

Luke tells us that the country of the Gerasenes is opposite Galilee (verse 26).

John MacArthur describes the scene for us:

Starting in verse 26, they sailed, remember now, the storm was stilled by Jesus, they finished their little trip across the north section of the lake, the Sea of Galilee, really seeking some rest from the huge crowds that just literally never left Jesus alone. Jesus had gotten in a boat with the apostles and disciples. There were a lot of other boats. There was a little flotilla of followers of Jesus going away for some rest and perhaps some private instruction. Jesus, remember now, from this point on in His ministry in Galilee spoke only in parables and only to His own disciples did He explain their meaning so there was always a public meeting and then a private meeting when the explanation was given. So off they went following Jesus on a clear night only to find that a storm came up. Jesus stilled the storm. It had blown them off course so they have to sort of regroup, head the direction they need to go and they arrive there probably just at daybreak, sailing to the country of the Gerasenes which is opposite Galilee. It’s opposite the Galilee which had to do primarily with the western part, the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. So they’re across on the eastern shore to the country of the Gerasenes.

I just need to comment on that. Luke and Mark use Gerasenes. Matthew calls them Gadarenes. Some Greek texts use Gergesenes. I don’t want to get into a big convoluted explanation of all of that. I think it’s relatively simple. There was a town there about six miles due east called Gerasa, or Gergesa, hence the Gerasenes, or the Gergesenes. The modern name is Kersa. There was another town called Gadara which explains why some of the writers refer to it as Gadara. Gadara was further south down the lake and further inland. It wasn’t on the edge of the lake and so it doesn’t provide the right topography to be the place where the pigs ran down the hill into the lake. Gadara, however, was a larger town and gave the name to the region, so that Gerasa or Gergesa was a town in the country of the Gadarenes. So, all of these terms essentially describe the same area. The focus is on the town of Gergesa or Gerasa because it suits the incident so perfectly. There are around Kersa, modern Kersa, in the hillsides many tombs still to this day to be seen and there is a slope that descends to the lake where the pigs could run…tombs being the place where this man was dwelling.

MacArthur says that the demons Jesus encountered during His ministry were unusual in both the Old and New Testaments:

It is a curiosity to me that if you go through the Old Testament you’re not going to find demon-possessed people with the exception of the very unique situation in the 6th chapter of Genesis where the sons of God and cohabitated with the daughters of men, that unique situation where apparently some fallen angels came upon some women. Apart from that… And those demons, you remember, according to what Peter said and Jude said were put into everlasting chains for doing that. But apart from that you don’t have any demon-possessed people in the Old TestamentYou have a lying spirit, you have the appearance of a medium in connection with the demon, but you don’t have people manifesting that they’re full of demons.  Interestingly enough that after the four gospels you only have two occasions, Acts 16 and Acts 19, where you have a demon-possessed situationAnd it’s never even referred to in the epistles of the New Testament, never referred toIt wasn’t an issue in the churches to which the apostle Paul wrote, or John wrote, or Jude wrote, or Peter wrote or James wroteBut in the life of Christ and in the three years of His ministry there is a manifestation of demon possessions that is unlike anything in all of human history, to be exceeded only by the manifestation of demonic power in the time yet to come called the Great Tribulation, just prior to Christ’s Second ComingAnd God Himself will aide that manifestation by opening up the pit of hell and the place of bound demons called the pit, the bottomless pit, the abussos, the abyss and letting it belch out some demons who have been bound there so that there is a greater force of demons in the time of the tribulation than ever before and they are allowed to run rampant over the earth in ways prior to which they have been restrained.

At His Second Coming, Jesus will subdue Satan and his angels.

Returning to our text, when Jesus reached land, a demon-possessed man from the city went to meet Him. It had been a long time since the man wore clothes; he lived not in his house but in the tombs (verse 27).

Students of the Gospels will ask whether there was one man or two.

MacArthur says:

In Matthew 8:28 Matthew says there were two men. There were two men.  He had a compatriot, perhaps equally demon possessed and equally bizarre, and equally deadly and dangerous. But in all the accounts, the one man becomes the focus, so we really don’t know what happened to the second man.  Two of them appeared. The focus of the story is on one man.  Perhaps he was included in the deliverance, perhaps he was not.

MacArthur says the man was naked because he was possessed by these many demons and was far removed from his right mind:

I like to think of this man, I guess the best word I can think of to use is maniac. The definition of maniac is a person exhibiting extreme symptoms of wild behavior. And that’s exactly what you have here. This man is so out of control as not to even be defined in human terms. It’s just so bizarre, so far beyond … Here we’re going to see the greatest exhibition of power over the forces of hell to this point in Scripture. Jesus vanquishes this mass of demons in this horrific individual

Anybody without Christ then is under the rule of Satan and under the influence of his demons and therefore anybody who is a sinner who is not protected by salvation through Jesus Christ is therefore vulnerable. What the entry points are, I’m not sure I can be explicit about in every case. I can say this, that as you study the Scripture, idolatry seems to be a way to throw the door open. Tampering in the occult seems to be a way to throw the door open. But that is not so say the most tormented people were necessarily the worst sinners. This is a Gentile man outside of Israel, so he was involved, if in any religion at all, in some pagan religion. It may have been, as most of them were occultic, and that may have thrown the door open to him, but he’s not any worse. In fact, as the story ends, the people who are the worst people in the story are the townspeople who were sane enough to bind this man up but not willing to believe in the man who delivered him, the God-Man Jesus Christ. So who is really the maniac?

I don’t know that there’s any way to say except that God allows Satan to do his work and demons have their agenda. And within God’s allowance, they pick and choose who they will. It isn’t that these people are worse sinners because what happens to them is not just an expression of their evil heart; it is for them a demonic torment. This man wasn’t happy about his condition, he was tormented by it

Now the person is not necessarily more evil and that gives entrance to the demon, but once the demons come in then evil becomes accelerated. Evil becomes manifest in some cases beyond what can even be discussed or described or understood humanly. They can become so infested by demons, so literally dominated by forces of unclean spirits as to conduct themselves in ways as we’ve been pointing out, that are absolutely beyond description humanly. And that’s this man. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of his conduct.

First of all, it says he hadn’t put on any clothing for a long time. You say, “Well that’s really strange. What’s that about?” Well it’s about perversion. It’s about shamelessness. You remember in the 19th chapter of Acts, I think it’s about verse 16, the evil spirit there pounces on these people and strips off their clothes? From the time that Adam and Eve sinned there has been a shame associated with human nakedness because from the time of their sin on they had lustful and perverted thoughts. And they knew that. And immediately the first thing they did was make coverings. But theirs was only temporarily made out of leaves. God came, killed an animal which is a picture of His Son who had become the final covering, and He covered them with a more permanent garment. And from then on uncovering someone’s nakedness was tantamount to sexual evil. That little phrase “uncovering someone’s nakedness,” you find it in the Pentateuch. It’s tantamount to sexual perversion and evil. The Bible is very clear about clothing and about modesty and about covering. Nakedness is a sign of shamelessness. It is a sign of sexual perversion. I’m talking all the way from the naturalists at the nudist colony to the pornographers at the other end and everything in between. It’s aberrant. But not only was it aberrant, it was also a torment for the man. It gets cold and it gets hot and there are extremes of weather in that part of the world. This was a kind of torment for him as the demons had dominated him and turned him into a shameless, perverted, evil person …

Now it says he was not living in a house but he was living in tombs. Obviously you couldn’t have somebody like this in a house. What would we do with him today? What would we do with somebody like him? We’d put him in prison, right? We’d put him in prison and then you have to isolate him so they can’t get near anybody, or put him in a padded cell. I remember some years back when people who behaved like this were put in straight-jackets. Remember that? I’ve seen people in those things in mental institutions. Now today what is done with people who have this kind of potentiality is they put them on drugs and when they slaughter a bunch of people, such as the Andrea Yates thing, we say the problem was, “She didn’t take her medication.” Demons can’t be medicated but since the human body can be medicated, it becomes less useful to them when it’s medicated. But in those days they couldn’t control them with medication. They didn’t have a mental institution to put them in. They didn’t have a padded cell to put them in.

Furthermore, he was suicidal.  He was a danger to himself.  Mark 5:5 says, “Night and day he was gashing and hacking at his naked body with sharp stones.”  He was mutilating himself because Satan is a murderer, is he not?  He is a killer.  He is an abaddon, he is a destroyer.  And his demons are the same.  Here is a man literally taking sharp rocks and gashing his body.  Mark 5:3 and 4 says nobody could control him. The demon power was too great.  He was violent and he was not only harmful to himself but he frankly was absolutely deadly to other people because he had murderous intentIn the account in Matthew it says he along with his friend, the two of them, were so exceedingly violent that no one could pass by the road.  You couldn’t even walk along the road below where they were because they were so violent they would come screaming down the hill.  It says they would scream, they would shriek, run down the hill nakedness with the intention of doing harm, taking life.  They are really the most manifest bearers of the mark of satanic personality.  They would then stay up in their tombs, as we’ll see, and when people came on the road, screaming and shrieking in nakedness they would run down the hill with the intent to attack, to maim and to kill.  This is what Satan wants to do.

When the man saw Jesus, his demons spoke through him, saying to our Lord, ‘What business do you have with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me’ (verse 28).

Note that even demons recognise that Jesus is Lord. Put that to your atheist and agnostic friends sometime. See how they react.

Demons know that they are living on borrowed time. One day, Jesus, through the power of God, will defeat them permanently.

Henry explains:

4. They are much enraged against our Lord Jesus, and have a great dread and horror of him: When the man whom they had possession of, and who spoke as they would have him, saw Jesus, he roared out as one in an agony, and fell down before him, to deprecate his wrath, and owned him to be the Son of God most high, that was infinitely above him and too hard for him; but protested against having any league or confederacy with him (which might sufficiently have silenced the blasphemous cavils of the scribes and Pharisees): What have I to do with thee? The devils have neither inclination to do service to Christ nor expectation to receive benefit by him: What have we to do with thee? But they dreaded his power and wrath: I beseech thee, torment me not. They do not say, I beseech thee, save me, but only, Torment me not. See whose language they speak that have only a dread of hell as a place of torment, but no desire of heaven as a place of holiness and love.

5. They are perfectly at the command, and under the power, of our Lord Jesus; and they knew it, for they besought him that he would not command them to go eis ton abyssoninto the deep, the place of their torment, which they acknowledge he could easily and justly do. O what a comfort is this to the Lord’s people, that all the powers of darkness are under the check and control of the Lord Jesus! He has them all in a chain. He can send them to their own place, when he pleaseth.

MacArthur tells us:

“What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  I’m telling you, the demons’ theology is orthodox. They know who Jesus is.  There were disciples there who weren’t sure.  The demons know.  It is a strange and bizarre testimony to the reality of who Jesus Christ is.  “What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  It’s very much like that other demon in the 4th chapter who said essentially the same thing.  In chapter 4 the demon said, “What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth. I know who You are, the Holy One of God.”  And here in an amazing way God gives testimony to the identity of His Son through demons, amazing.

By the way, they are timeless, they are ageless.  They were created at one time. They do not reproduce. They are as old as creation.  They have vast knowledge. They were originally holy angelsThey have vast knowledge of the personality of God and the Godhead, and they knew exactly who Jesus was.

“What do I have to do with You, Jesus?  What’s this all about?”  As if to say, “Why are You here?  What’s this about?  I beg You, do not torment me.”  He calls Him, “Son of the Most High God.”  We’ve discussed that term because it was used in chapter 1. When the angel came to announce the birth of the Messiah, he said He would be the Son of the Most High God and God would give to Him His kingdom.  It’s a New Testament term taken from the Old Testament. The Most High God is El Elyon. It means “God, the sovereign one, God the sovereign Lord.” And so what they’re saying is, “Son of the sovereign Lord.”  Often in the Old Testament “the Most High God” is followed by the statement, “possessor of heaven and earth.”  They know this is the Lord of heaven and earth. This is the Creator God in human form.  This is God the Son, the One who is Most High.  The demons knew Him well.  Even Satan knew Him well.  Remember back in chapter 4 when Satan confronted Him, he said, “Since You are the Son of God,” do this, do this.  Since You are the Son of God do this, do this.  The devils know exactly who He is.

The demons had said that to Jesus because He commanded them to leave the man; the unclean spirit they made up within him caused him to break his shackles, which the townspeople had put him in, and go out into the wilderness, or the desert, in some translations (verse 29).

Jesus asked the man for his name, and the demons replied through him, ‘Legion’, for they were many (verse 30).

The demons numbered themselves as soldiers in the Roman Empire. The size of a Roman legion varied throughout the centuries, but, much of the time, there were more than 3,000 men in a single legion.

How this poor man must have suffered through the years, day after day. It’s horrible.

Because they knew the power of Jesus, they begged Him not to send them to the abyss, where they are eventually doomed in defeat (verse 31).

Their destiny is ultimately under our Lord’s control at all times. Note that they had to ask His permission not to go into the abyss.

On the hillside, a herd of swine were feeding, so the demons begged — yes, begged — His permission to enter them; Jesus granted them permission (verse 32).

MacArthur says:

they didn’t want Him to send them, verse 31, to the abyss, to the abussos, the bottomless pit. It’s called the bottomless pit in the book of Revelation, you read about it in chapter 9, chapter 11, chapter 17. “Don’t send us into the abyss.” That is the present place of demon incarceration. As many demons as there are in the world, thankfully by the goodness of God, His providential common grace, not all the demons that exist are running loose in the world. In fact, 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 and 7, both those places tell us that the demons that possess the people described in Genesis 6 were at that time put in everlasting chains and sent to that bottomless pit from which they will never be released. So there are eternally, or permanently bound demons, ultimately in the end they will all go to the final incarceration in the lake of fire. But there are today bound demons who are bound permanently. Also in this abussos, this bottomless pit there are some demons bound temporarily because in the ninth chapter of Revelation we find in the time of the Great Tribulation to come, God’s going to open up that bit and belching out of that pit are going to come forth some demons to add to the demon force that runs amuck on the earth during the time of the Great Tribulation when Satan has his final heyday under Antichrist. But there is a place where many of the demons are currently incarcerated so that their power is in some way limited in the world. These demons say, “We don’t want to go there before the time. Don’t send us there yet, we want our freedom. Please don’t send us there.”

Henry’s commentary raises an interesting point about the herd owners’ loss of an occupation:

When the devil at first brought man into a miserable state he brought a curse likewise upon the whole creation, and that became subject to enmity. And here, as an instance of that extensive enmity of his, when he could not destroy the man, he would destroy the swine. If he could not hurt them in their bodies, he would hurt them in their goods, which sometimes prove a great temptation to men to draw them from Christ, as here. Christ suffered them to enter into the swine, to convince the country what mischief the devil could do in it, if he should suffer him.

Therefore, this was a demonstration that the demons affected not only the poor man, but others in that town, who probably were a bit sanctimonious about themselves with regard to his plight.

The demons left the man and entered the swine, then the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake, where they all drowned (verse 33).

Henry says:

No sooner had the devils leave than they entered into the swine; and no sooner had they entered into them than the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were drowned. For it is a miracle of mercy if those whom Satan possesses are not brought to destruction and perdition.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran into the city and adjoining countryside to tell everyone (verse 34).

It was an extraordinary event, as MacArthur explains:

Two thousand pigs careening down a hill, drowning? By the way, from what I’ve read, pigs can swim. But the point was, the demons slaughtered them all. Why? Well, first of all, to show that the man had been delivered, visual, physical proof. Secondly, to reveal the deadly intent of demons to kill. Also, as I said, to reveal the power of Jesus over the kingdom of darkness. That was a tremendous and dramatic illustration that this man had been delivered because the pigs acted in the kind of frenzy and self-destruction that characterized the man. They became maniac pigs. The testimony is convincing. This man definitely had demons. They’re gone because the pigs are behaving like the man did.

And that’s what people concluded. Verse 34, “When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran away and reported in the city and out in the country.” They were eyewitnesses. Whoever was working for the owner of the pigs, these men who were taking care of 2,000 pigs, they saw what happened, they reported it in the city and out in the country. The bottom line is it’s another way to say they couldn’t stop talking about it. Everywhere they went they...I mean, they had never seen anything like this in their entire lives, they were probably experienced with pigs and pigs don’t just uniformly all at once dive off a cliff and kill themselves. The most powerful, startling, amazing event of their lives by far and they spread it everywhere. They can’t stop talking about it, everywhere they went they said, “It…it’s inexplicable.” They heard the conversation between Jesus and the man, at least they saw the conversation going on because it says the pigs were nearby. They knew about this man, if they herded pigs in that area they knew about that man, they knew about the maniacal character of that man. And all of a sudden this thing takes place and it’s just the most amazing thing ever. And so they become heralds, as it were, telling everybody about it.

Naturally, people began coming to the site where this had happened, and they saw Jesus, with the now fully restored man, also fully clothed, sitting at His feet; they were afraid (verse 35).

MacArthur brings us back to the terror that people felt when Jesus performed other miracles and calmed storms. They instinctively knew that they were in the presence of the Most High God, and they were ashamed of their own weaknesses, especially their sins:

Well the reaction at the end of verse 35, “They became frightened,” from the word phobeo from which we get phobia. They were terrified is basically what it was. Here again we see the same thing. We see it all the way through the gospel of Luke, people who realize they’re in the presence of the power of God are scared, frightened, traumatized, terrified. And it is so throughout particularly this chapter, back in verse 25 when Jesus stilled the storm, stopped the wind and the waves. It says they were fearful, they were frightened there, they were panicked there. We see it throughout the rest of the chapter as we will note later that people are literally terrified every time Jesus does a miracle, whether it’s a healing or the raising of a dead person, it creates a certain amount of terror in people because they know they’re in the presence of the power of God and that is a holy presence and they are sinful people.

That leads us then to the third power demonstrated here, the damning power of sin…the damning power of sin. The demons exert a power, the Lord Jesus brings His great delivering power, but we also see the terrible damning power of sin. It is the nature of sin to blind. It is the nature of sin to hate the truth. It is the nature of sin to reject proof. It is the nature of sin to resist righteousness. It is the nature of sin to cling tightly to the love of iniquity. Here you have irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the power of God. Here you have a miracle that is so massive that demonstrates not His power over the physical realm, but His power over the supernatural realm, His power over the spiritual world, His power over the forces of evil, to deliver men from evil. You see this without any argument, without any debate. They don’t discuss it. They don’t debate it. They know what has happened. It terrifies them.

Those who had seen the miracle told these people how Jesus had healed the man (verse 36).

Interestingly, instead of thanking Jesus for restoring local peace at long last and inviting Him to stay, they all told Him to leave; they were that frightened. So, He went into the boat and left (verse 37).

Henry makes this observation:

Those lose their Saviour, and their hopes in him, that love their swine better.

They displayed the same spiritual blindness as did the Jewish hierarchy.

MacArthur expands on their extraordinarily negative response:

instead of saying “thank you,” and “how do we get delivered?” you notice verse 36, “Those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon possessed had been made well.” This is an interesting verse. They want to know what happened…what happened…give us the details…how did this happen? They’re terrified of Jesus, what’s going on here? And so those who had seen it told them the full story of how the man who was demon possessed had been made well, esothe(?), from sozo, had been saved…sozo-to be saved. How the man had been delivered. And they gave them the full story, details of which aren’t given to us. I’m sure they said, “Well, you won’t believe how it happened. The guy came down the hill and…” And they, they must have been, as I said earlier, close enough to see the engagement and the encounter and to even hear what went on. The man had been delivered, not just from Satan, but I believe he’d been delivered from sin, or at least he was, when those people heard the discussion, beginning to awaken to the forgiveness and the salvation that Jesus had offered which I believe became completed, and I’ll show you why in a moment.

You know, you think sinners would really be convinced if you just had a powerful enough miracle. No, no, you don’t understand the power of sin. You know, if you could just figure a clever enough way to pronounce the gospel, if you could just figure an attractive enough way to present Jesus Christ, if you could just get a powerful enough exhibit of the life of Jesus Christ and His miracle might, boy, people would really be convinced. No…no, the damning power of sin just obliterates reality. The idea that sinners will be convinced by a powerful miracle…a powerful miracle isn’t true.

Well what did the Jews do? They saw miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle for three years. And at the end of that time what did they do? They wanted Him dead. The Gentiles weren’t any different. I can’t imagine a more powerful, clear example of the saving power of Jesus Christ than this. I can’t imagine a more dramatic event than sending thousands of demons out of a man with a word. And the proof of it in the drowning of this herd of pigs. I…rationally you’ve got to fall down and say, “This is the power of God.” But the truth of the matter is, this is hard soil back from Jesus’ story in the eighth chapter verses 5 and 12, hard soil, the seed of the truth falls just like falling on concrete, it doesn’t penetrate.

What was their reaction? Verse 37, “All the people,” apparently without exception, “All the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district, everybody.” Apparently you’ve got a big crowd out there. “All of them asked Him to depart from them. Go away.”

Why? “For they were gripped with phobe, you know, fear megala, great fear, massive fear. What were they terrified of? After all, hadn’t He brought safety where there was danger? Hadn’t He brought peace where there was chaos? What was to be afraid of? What was to be afraid of was they knew they were in the presence of God? They knew they were seeing the great power of God and they knew it was a holy power, a purging, purifying, cleansing power that dispensed with evil and they therefore knew that they were exposed to sinners. And loving their evil so much they wanted to get rid of the intimidation. Even Peter had that reaction when Jesus commanded the fish to come to his boat and he said in Luke 5:8, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a…what?…sinful man.” It’s the intimidation of holiness in the presence of sin that causes them to want Jesus to go away. Instead of saying, “Thank You, thank You for delivering us, could You go up and get his friend up there, that other guy and do to him what You’ve done to this man? And could You tell us how we can be delivered from whatever satanic influences exist in our lives? And could You tell us how we can be forgiven of our sin? And could You tell us how this holy power could come upon us?”

They don’t say that. There’s not a word of thanks for the deliverance from the danger of the man. They see Jesus as a greater danger than that man. They would rather have a maniac than the Son of God. They would rather be terrified by Satan than terrified by God. They would rather endure the presence of demonic danger than the presence of divine deliverance. They preferred the unholy to the holy. They preferred a tomb dweller over the Lord of life. Just like Israel. They were not asking Jesus to go away because He messed with their economy, killing their pigs. They weren’t asking Him to go away because they were materialists and not spiritualists and they were mad at Him for what He had done. The whole town and the whole region wanted Him to go away because they were terrified of His holiness. You know, the world is really comfortable with pigs and maniacs, but it’s not comfortable with Jesus Christ, is it? Not the Son of God. David Gooding writes, “What a sad comment on man’s fallen and unregenerate state it is that man should feel more at home with demons than with the Christ who has the power to cast them out. Who would try to help a criminal or a drunkard, or if they should prove incorrigible would want the one imprisoned and the other put into a hospital find it embarrassing and somewhat frightening if that criminal or drunkard is saved by Christ and turned into a wholesome regenerate disciple.” That’s really true…it’s really true. They would rather have a maniac than a Christian. They would rather have the presence of Satan than the presence of Christ. This is the blindness and the damning darkness and ignorance of sin.

And so, sad note, it says verse 37, “He got into a boat and returned.” He never came back, by the way. One time…one day…one occasion…they said, “Get out.” He got into a boat and went back to Capernaum. Was it an insult? Yes. It was more, it was a damning rejection and Jesus never ever came back.

Not surprisingly, the man who had been healed begged Jesus to allow him to be a disciple, but Jesus sent him away, saying (verse 38) that he should return to his home and declare how much God has done for him. Obediently, the man went away, proclaiming to the city just how much Jesus had done for him (verse 39).

Henry says that it is possible that the man’s words might have gained traction once the Gerasenes recovered from what had happened:

Perhaps Christ knew that, when the resentment of the loss of their swine was a little over, they would be better disposed to consider the miracle, and therefore left the man among them to be a standing monument, and a monitor to them of it.

MacArthur says that Jesus told the man to stay because he would be the only witness in that place:

He’s the first Gentile missionary…the maniac who became a missionary. And as I said, if he knew enough to be saved, he knew enough to tell somebody else. And if that man had left with Jesus, there would have been no witness in that place. Here was grace in the face of rejection. Jesus sent him back to his own people and He said to him, “Describe what great things God has done for you, and he went away proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.” How interesting. You tell them what God has done, he told them what Jesus had done because Jesus is God. He became a witness. When I get to heaven I want to ask him how successful he was, how fruitful. He went proclaiming throughout the whole city, kerusso, preaching throughout the whole city. This is personal evangelism, the story of what the Lord had done. Mark 5:20 says, “Everyone was amazed…amazed.”

Well that’s what Jesus does. He turns maniacs into missionaries. It shows us the power of the demons, the power of the delivering Lord, and the damning power of sin. What a story. 

Perhaps we, too, are the only witnesses where we live:

If you have been delivered, you too are a missionary, amen? Tell the story.

I always wonder what sort of sermon I will hear when this Gospel passage is read. Perhaps you do, too.

I hope we will not be disappointed on Sunday morning.

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 (as cited below).

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel:[a] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s perspective on congregations paying their church ministers, which he said is obligatory for the spiritual guidance they provide.

1 Corinthians 10 is about idolatry.

Some of what Paul says here appears to contradict what he wrote in Romans about stronger and weaker Christians. Stronger Christians should make sure they do not offend weaker Christians, particularly in matters of food and drink, lest the stronger drive the weaker away from the Church. That would be an act deeply displeasing to God, because those people would be driven away from the salvation that Christ brings us.

Today’s reading contradicts that as Paul says that no Christian should be eating meat sacrificed to idols, stronger believers included.

Therefore, it is useful to add context and a bit of background to the situation the Corinthians were in. Theirs was a highly idolatrous society and the Christians in Corinth thought they could dip in and out of it and still be faithful to Christ. Not so, says Paul.

John MacArthur explains Paul’s reasoning (emphases mine below):

the Corinthian society was totally overwrought with demons, manifesting themselves behind these different idols; and idolatry was a part of everything, I mean everything. There couldn’t be any kind of public occasion or anything else that wasn’t connected with idols. That was their entire society just multiple gods; and everything they did practically within the social framework of the Corinthian society had idols in it.

And so the mature Christians, the Corinthian Christians, you know, who were the smug confident ones who had been around a while, they were saying this: “Hey, look. We’re in the society; we’re mature; we’ve been well-taught, apostle Paul’s taught us; we’ve studied under him for 18 months. We know our way around. Look, we’ve got to be a part of our society. We can go to the festivals, the social occasions, the ceremonies, and we can attend the celebrations of our society. We can get involved in all of those things; and we really don’t have to fear, because we’re so confident, we’re so mature that that stuff just doesn’t really bother us. And if we have to eat idol meat, meat offered to idols, that’s really no problem; we’re able to resist the temptation. And even if there is an orgy there, why, we’ll just sit in the corner and discuss theology. We’re not going to really get involved, and we’ll be strong enough to handle it.” And so everywhere these mature, smug, confident Corinthians went, they were exposing themselves to the whole gamut of idolatry that was around them and trying to stay separated. But could they?

“Look at Israel,” – Paul says – “look at them, hardly out of Egypt. And out in the desert there weren’t even any idols around; but the first opportunity they had, the first time their leader was gone, they reverted back to Egyptian idolatry.” And here were the Corinthians not like Israel in the wilderness, but living in the middle of idolatry. And if the Corinthians continually expose themselves to idolatry, they were constantly being a part of it. Believe me, it would creep right in.

Is Paul not overstating his case by talking about ‘demons’ in this context? No.

MacArthur says that there are several references to demons and idolatry in the Old Testament:

When you go out and do what the rest of the world does, when you participate in the rest of the world’s activities, you are communing with demons. That’s Paul’s whole point here. It’s demonic. Because Satan is the prince of this world, and because he rules in this world by the use of his demons, his demons move around and impersonate all the religious systems of the world. His demons fill and maintain all of the evil systems of this world. No matter what you get into, you’re communing with them, and you can’t avoid it. It’s a serious thing.

In Psalm 96:5, the Greek translation of that verse is this: “All the gods of the heathen are demons” – that’s the Septuagint, the Greek – “All the gods of the nations” – or – “All the God’s of the heathen are demons.” If they worship a false god, a demon will impersonate it. Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 say the same thing, “They sacrifice to demons.” So, they’re fellowshipping with demons.

So, here you have a Christian. He’s over here, and he’s communing with the Lord, and he’s got the cup and the bread. Then he turns around and goes to an idol feast. And as soon as he enters that idol feast and participates, he becomes a communer with demons. A communer with demons.

This can be extended to other worldly things and activities, too. MacArthur has a bit in one of his sermons about sexual temptation in this context:

You say, “Well, I’m a Christian, I can handle it. I can go here and do that, and go here and do that.” You know, young people, it’s amazing. Young people always thing they’re in control of everything. “Well, you know, I can go out and park and, you know, I can handle it. I’m a Christian. We just get so far, and then we just start quoting Bible verses, you know. Yeah, we got a little program worked out, you know.” Yeah, sure. Or, listen, “It’s no problem for me. I can handle the girls in the office, no problem. I can have lunch with them and dinner with them; it doesn’t bother me a bit.” Mm-hmm, famous last words.

“Oh, yeah,” pastor says. “Oh, counseling women, no problem at all. No, none at all.” I just heard of a pastor who lost his pulpit because there were multiple dozens of women who had had sexual relations with him in counseling, I mean multiple dozens, folks. You can handle it? You better not push your freedom too far. Many Christians today have been rendered useless because they couldn’t handle sex. They’re out of the race to win people to Christ – shelved.

MacArthur discusses our society today, comparing it with that of the Corinthians:

Look at the morality of our day. The morality of the church has changed dramatically, and the reason it’s changed so dramatically is because we have been slowly brainwashed. Like fifty years ago, the morality of Christianity was much tighter, much more rigid, much more confined to the Scripture. And now, little by little, the morality of even “Christianity” begins to dissipate; and the reason is because we’re in a society that is destroying all morality, that is wiping out all morality, and consequently we find ourselves buying the bag. Just subliminally it approaches our minds, and before we know it we’ve got a watered down morality. And some of the things we would do, some of the places we would go wouldn’t even have been conceived of by Christians fifty years ago. The reason is we have slowly been brainwashed by the media.

Paul is, in a sense, saying to the Corinthians, “You can’t set yourself up as somebody who thinks he stands without potentially falling; and especially you’ll never be able to just waltz around your whole with idolatry and not have it affect you. You’re going to come up with a syncretism. You’re going to come up with a wedding between idolatry and true worship.”

Now verse 7, “Neither be idolaters, as were some of them,” notes that not all Israel worshipped at the golden calf; some of them did. It was an individual thing. Again, in dealing with Israel in the wilderness, remember everything that occurred was an individual thing. And so in Corinth the same thing was true.

Look at chapter 5, verse 11. Some Corinthian Christians were idolatrous. They had already made this wedding of Christianity to idol worship. Verse 11: “I’ve written unto you not to company if any man that is called a brother.” Now he’s talking about Christians. “Anybody called a brother” – or at least called himself a Christian – “be a fornicator,” – sexually evil – “a covetous, or an” – what? – “idolater, don’t have anything to do with him.” But apparently within the congregation of the Corinthian believers, there were some worshipping idols. You see, by fooling around with that, they couldn’t keep separated.

It slowly creeps in. It insidiously comes in. You can’t continue to expose yourself to that and not have it affect your theology and find a place there. The line gets blurred, folks. It just gets blurred he said. And idolatry suddenly creeps in when freedom is abused by getting too close to the contact.

Those are the reasons why Paul says to flee from idolatry (verse 14).

He leaves it to the Corinthians to judge for themselves the truth of that statement (verse 15).

Then he discusses Holy Communion. He asks whether taking the bread and the cup are not participation in the body and the blood of Christ (verse 16). Furthermore, do we not commune with each other when we participate in that holy sacrament together (verse 17)?

Paul is saying that Holy Communion is a solemn occasion, one that cannot be defiled with participation in idolatry later on in the day.

MacArthur explains the significance of Holy Communion:

One of the words, eucharisteō, from which you get the Eucharist, means to give thanks. It is to thank God for that cup. And so, the cup of blessing, that is the one the Lord blessed and set apart, is the one that we bless and thank God for.

Now, what is it? What is this cup? Verse 16 again, “Is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” Now, when you drink the cup at the Lord’s Table – listen to this – you are communing with the blood of Christ. Now, we have to understand something, because this is very, very misunderstood. What does this mean? What does it mean to commune? It’s more than a symbol.

We say, “Well, this is a symbol of his blood.”

Well, listen to this. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the symbol of the blood of Christ? Is that what it says? No. It’s more than the symbol. It is the communion; it is the, if you will, in the Greek, participation, or it is the sharing. It’s an actual involvement that’s taking place when we take that cup. There is a spiritual reality going on there, far more than just a symbol.

For example, if you see a picture of somebody you love who has died, it isn’t just a picture. As soon as you look at the picture, the whole of that person is actualized in your mind. Right? All of a sudden, everything about that person is alive to you. I look at pictures of people that have gone on, and I have instant memories. My mind is flooded with reality. They are actualized. And communion is the same thing.

To partake of the elements actualizes Christ’s death; it makes it vivid; it makes it real; it intensifies my sensitivities to the reality of Christ dying for me. You see? It isn’t just a symbol; it is a symbol that is activated by the Spirit of God to make Christ’s death a living reality to me. That’s the idea of communion

Now, let’s go a step further, verse 16, “The bread” – or literally the loaf, to correspond more with cup – “The loaf which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

Now, our Lord said of the bread, that last night, “This is My body, given for you.” Now body – now, I want to say something, too, that may be new to you – “body” in Hebrew thought refers to the totality of earthy life, earthiness, humanness. For example, the word for earth is adamah. The word for man is adam. It’s a form of adamah, because man was taken from the dirt. He is earthy. “And God took the dirt and formed a body.” Adam from adamah.

And that is the point that connects man to the ground, to the earth, to earthiness. We are human, and that is the significance of the body. When a Hebrew thought of the body, he thought of earthiness; he thought of man’s connection to the ground, to his humanness.

Now, note; when we commune with the bread, it is the body of Christ. This is not primarily a reference to the cross. Stick with me on it. It is not primarily a reference to the cross. By the bread we remember and commune with our Lord’s incarnation, His human life, his humanness. We remember that which makes Him a sympathetic High Priest, as well as a bleeding, dying Savior.

The communion, then, relates us to the living Christ who came and suffered and thought it not something to hold onto, to be equal with God, but found Himself in the fashion of a man, humbled Himself, and so forth. And He did it in order that He might become a sympathetic High Priest in all points, tempted like as – what? – we are. The bread reminds us of His life. The bread reminds us of His body, reminds us of His humanness.

God gave Himself to us as a human being in order that He might suffer what we suffer, in order that He might hurt where we hurt, in order that He might be tempted where we’re tempted, in order that He might succor us, in order that He might be our faithful, sympathetic, and Great High Priest

There is an actual communion that occurs. Let me show you what I mean. There is confusion about that, and there are different views of how that works. The word koinōnia there, communion in verse 16, is the word to participate. The verb means to share, or to partake of, or to participate, or to be a partner in. The noun koinōnia means participation, partnership, fellowship, communion.

As a Christian, we literally participate in Christ. First Corinthians 1:9 says we participate with the Son; 2 Corinthians 13, we participate with the Spirit; Philippians 2:1, we participate in the ministry; 2 Corinthians 8:4, we participate in the Gospel; Philippians 3, we participate in suffering. We are fellowshipping all the time with Christ, sharing Him, His Spirit, His ministry, His Gospel, His sufferings. And when we come to the Table, we participate in His death. We are sharing the benefits of His death. That’s what it means. We are sharing in the meaning of His death, the purpose of it, the point of it.

So, it’s more than just remembering; it’s sharing, fellowshipping, participating, partaking, communing. It’s like that picture I mentioned. We come to that, and you look at the cup, and you look at the bread, and they aren’t just a cup and bread. They aren’t even just symbols. All of a sudden, Christ is alive. All of a sudden, you are sensitized. And the reality of Christ is actualized in your mind, and you see His cross, and you see your union with Him, and you see His body, and you see it given in your behalf. And you see the fact that He lived, and He suffered, and He’s a sympathetic high priest. All of that is actualized

Everybody who comes to the Lord’s Table … not only enters into communion with Christ, but He enters into communion with everybody else who’s also at the Lord’s Table. Do you see what he’s saying? We all come to that one bread; we all partake of that one bread, so we all constitute one body. Communion then means we are actually communing with Christ and actually communing with everybody else who’s there.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the way the Israelites worshipped together with regard to their sacrifices (verse 18).

MacArthur says:

Israel was involved in sacrificing. They were involved with each other, and they were involved with God. So, what is he saying then? Participation in religious ri[te]s has deep, spiritual meaning. It implies a real union between the worshippers and the one being worshipped. That’s what he’s saying. So, you can’t do this with idols without having that reality take place.

Israel brought sacrifices, a portion of which were consumed by the priests, a portion of which were burned on the altar. The rest were divided between the priest and the worshipping Jew. And there was a communion between the Jew, the priest, and God as they partook of the altar. Now, that’s Paul’s point. Worship is identification, communion with whoever’s being worshipped.

So, if you’re going to be like Israel, in verse 18, communion with the altar for the Jews meant fellowship with God and everybody else at the altar. Communion with Christ at the Lord’s Supper, for the Christian, means fellowship with Christ and everybody else at His Table.

Paul asks the question some of the Corinthians were asking: was an idol nothing at all (verse 19)? If not, then what was the problem?

Matthew Henry explains:

By following the principle on which they would argue it to be lawful, namely, that an idol was nothing. Many of them were nothing at all, none of them had any divinity in them. What was sacrificed to idols was nothing, no way changed from what it was before, but was every whit as fit for food, considered in itself. They indeed seem to argue that, because an idol was nothing, what was offered was no sacrifice, but common and ordinary food, of which they might therefore eat with as little scruple. Now the apostle allows that the food was not changed as to its nature, was as fit to be eaten as common food, where it was set before any who knew not of its having been offered to an idol.

However, Paul answers their question by saying that pagans were making sacrifices to false gods — demons — and not to God (verse 20). Therefore, Paul told the Corinthians they could not participate with demons.

Henry sums the verse up as follows:

Doing it is a token of your having fellowship with the demons to whom they are offered. I would not have you be in communion with devils.

Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot worship at the Lord’s Table and worship demons (verse 21). The two are completely incompatible.

Paul ends by asking the Corinthians if they wish to provoke God to jealousy and if they think they are stronger than He (verse 22). God will not put up with rivals. And if we fall into His wrath, we will be the losers in that contest.

The Bible has numerous references to God’s ‘jealousy’. MacArthur lists them:

Do you want to make the Lord jealous? And in Deuteronomy 32:21 he said, “They have stirred me to jealousy with what is a no-god. They have provoked me with their idols.” If you want to stir God to jealousy, then you better be stronger than He is or you won’t be able to handle Him, because He deals very strongly with idolatry. All you got to do is read the Bible about that. You just read Deuteronomy 7, Deuteronomy 16, Deuteronomy 17, Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah 44; just read Revelation chapter 14, chapter 21, chapter 22. There are inferences in all of those places about the vengeance of God against idols and idol worshippers. The only way you’ll ever want to provoke God to jealousy is if you’re stronger than He is. It’s offensive to the Lord. He judges idol worshippers, and you won’t escape; no one ever has. It’s a dangerous place to be.

Paul concludes his thoughts on idolatry by telling the Corinthians to focus on doing everything for God’s glory. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

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 have omitted — 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.

Acts 16:35-40

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

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My last post was about the conversion and baptism of the purple goods seller Lydia and her household in Philippi. Lydia ‘opened her heart’ to Paul’s words. Lydia was the start of the church in Philippi, and that was the church Paul addressed in his letters to the Philippians.

Acts 16:16-34 is the Year C reading for the Seventh Sunday after Easter. A summary follows, because it provides the context for today’s verses. The four men — Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke (the author of Acts) — were on their way to pray when a slave girl with divination powers approached them. Her owners made a lot of money from her divination:

17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Paul was angry, because she had an evil spirit within her. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

a “spirit of divination.” The literal Greek…I want you to get this, a most fascinating thing…the literal Greek is, she had a spirit, a python. That’s the same as a python snake, the same term…a spirit, a python, or a python spirit. You say, well, what is a python spirit? Well, in Greek mythology…and this is all mythology…in Greek mythology, there’s a place called Pytho, and Pytho was at the foot of Mount Parnassus. Now, at Pytho, there was a dragon. The dragon guarded Pytho…that area…and the dragon’s name was Python. Stay with me. This dragon guarded the oracles of Delphi. Now you may have heard of that. Delphi was a place where oracles were given. Now, you say, what’s an oracle? I’ll give you the definition. The term “oracle,” which is an occult term, means either a place where mediums consult demons or it means the revelation the demons give themselves. So it can refer to the place or the demonic revelation. The oracles at Delphi…Delphi was a place that was a monstrous temple and in this temple were all these medium priestesses and these priestesses were conjuring up demons and giving out information. Now, you say, what about the dragon? Well, supposedly, long ago in Greek mythology, this dragon guarded these oracles. Apollo, who was the third son of Jupiter in mythology, came down and slew the dragon. All of the oracle power of the dragon was then transferred to Apollo and he took on the name Pythias. And so the python idea ties in with Apollo who received the dragon’s power and was able, then, to contact these demon spirits at Delphi. Now, let me say this just so you’ll understand. They believed, the people in this world believed, in that world of that day, they believed that the gods were alive. They believed in Apollo and Jupiter and Venus and Mars and all those people, Cupid and everybody else. Now, they believed that Apollo…that Apollo spoke through the oracles at Delphi. And so the term python means any kind of medium contact with the god Apollo. This girl, then, was one of the thousands of priestesses from Delphi who were called pythons because they were plugged into Apollo whose other name was Pythias. Now, if you’re confused, don’t feel bad; I am, too (laughter). But, nevertheless, people would consult this girl, or these priestesses…and they had temples all over the place. In fact, it got to be a universal kind of worship. They would consult these priestesses and they would then think that Apollo, the god, was giving them the information. Now, we know who it really was, right?…Satan and his demons. Let me give you another footnote that’s just absolutely fascinating. The term “python” then became synonymous with ventriloquist and is used as such. Ventriloquists were called pythons. You say, why. Do you know what a demon-possessed medium is? He is a dummy for a demon ventriloquist. She was nothing but a demonic Charlie McCarthy (laughter)…essentially the same thing…nothing but a mouth through which a demon spoke…and this is the word ventriloquist. In Isaiah 8:19, the Bible says that the people were to watch out for mediums that peep and mutter and the word in the Greek…it’s in Hebrew in the Old Testament, but the Greek translation, they use the word [engastrímythos]which means ventriloquist. They were to watch out for ventriloquist demons who used the voice of humans. You say, then that girl was a dummy and demons talked through her.

When her owners found out Paul had, via divine means, driven the demon out of her, they were furious. They had lost a steady stream of income. So, they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace in Philippi and denounced them. The crowd turned into a mob and magistrates joined in:

22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

MacArthur says this was no ordinary beating:

Now, the magistrates had a group of guys that were local police. They were called lictors … and they were a kind of policeman. They carried around, for the purpose of punishment in these places where Greek people live, like, a pile of rods wrapped together. They were like birch rods, very hard. And they would wrap them all together. And in the middle they would insert an axe. And the axe was for the purpose of capital punishment when it was needed. On the spot, they could execute. When they didn’t need the axe, they laid the axe aside, take the bundle of rods and just flail people with them. Well, that’s what they decided to do. This was a Roman punishment. Incidentally, Paul got it three times. “Thrice was I beaten with rods,” II Corinthians 11:25…three times. It’s a fantastic thing to even conceive of this kind of a beating. And Paul says in II Corinthians 11:23, he says “in stripes above measure.” There were so many wounds inflicted by this mass of sticks flailing away that you couldn’t count them. No trial, no nothing!

Paul and Silas were then thrown in the inner prison and put in the stocks under constant guard.

Around midnight, the prisoners listened to Paul and Silas sing hymns and pray when a mighty earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. The doors opened and the shackles unfastened. The guard was terrified, because if any prisoner escaped, he would be executed. He considered killing himself before that happened:

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

Once the cell was lit again, the guard trembled with fear and fell down in front of Paul and Silas, asking what he must do to be saved:

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

During the earthquake, the guard had been asleep at home, which MacArthur says would have been next to the prison. He was beside himself in rushing to the prison only to find it in such a state. Then, of course, there were the consequences he would face from the Roman governor if anyone had escaped. The guard had those uncontrollable shakes from extreme fear that take time to dissipate.

Paul and Silas spoke ‘the word of the Lord’ to the guard and his household. The guard washed their wounds — no doubt many — after which, Paul and Silas baptised him and his household:

34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

What an amazing story.

At that point, the church in Philippi had two groups that could then meet: Lydia and her household and the guard and his. God had a plan.

Now on to today’s verses.

When daylight broke, the magistrates sent the police to the jailer saying that Paul and Silas could walk free (verse 35). The jailer relayed the news to Paul (verse 36).

Paul expressed his indignation at the treatment that he and Silas — both Roman citizens — received. That beating was meant for Greeks, non-Romans under Roman rule. Paul stood on principle and told the guard that the police could release him and Silas themselves (verse 37).

MacArthur tells us more:

You see, it was forbidden under Roman law to ever corporeally inflict a wound on a Roman citizen. That was against the law. All a Roman had to do was say, I am a Roman citizen and they couldn’t put one wound on his body. That was the right of Roman citizenship. You know what happened? They had violated Roman law. You say, well, why didn’t Paul say it earlier? God didn’t want him to, because if they hadn’t got beaten, they wouldn’t have got to jail. If they hadn’t got to jail, this whole family wouldn’t have gotten saved. But here, Paul now says, I am a Roman. Now, he says, they threw us in prison, now are they gonna thrust us out so quietly and privately? “Nay, verily”…well, he is really in control…he says, “let them come themselves and fetch us out.” He says, you go tell those boys I got something to say to them.

This is why the magistrates were afraid when the police reported back to them (verse 38). They could have lost their jobs or worse. So, ‘they’ in verse 38 refers to the magistrates, who personally apologised to Paul and Silas before escorting them away with a request to leave Philippi (verse 39).

Before they left the city, they stopped by to meet with Lydia and her fellow converts to encourage them in the faith (verse 40).

MacArthur makes interesting points about this story. One is that Timothy and Luke were not jailed because they fit a Gentile profile. Another is that, when Paul returned to Philippi, the authorities never bothered him again. Another interesting point is this:

Isn’t that beautiful to see Paul care for his flock? And incidentally, he left Luke there to care for them, too.

Acts 17 returns to the third person, meaning that Luke was no longer with Paul, Silas and Timothy.

The establishment of the church in Philippi followed the same fascinating pattern as many of the churches featured in Acts: emotionally moving conversions, demons (although not always), persecution and strengthened faith.

In closing, this is what Matthew Henry had to say about Philippi, with words of encouragement for present-day clergy:

Though the beginnings here were small, the latter end greatly increased; now they laid the foundation of a church at Philippi, which became very eminent, had its bishops and deacons, and people that were more generous to Paul than any other church, as appears by his epistle to the PhilippiansLet not ministers be discouraged, though they see not the fruit of their labours presently; the seed sown seems to be lost under the clods, but it shall come up again in a plentiful harvest in due time.

Next time — Acts 17:16-21

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 12:43-45

Return of an Unclean Spirit

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

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Today’s verses immediately followed our Lord’s refusal to give a special sign to the Pharisees, one which they boldly requested in their unbelief.

The parallel passage for today’s reading is Luke 11:24-26, about which I wrote in 2014. I found the commentaries accompanying that passage — also from my two favourites, Matthew Henry and John MacArthur — clearer than theirs for Matthew’s verses. Therefore, if necessary, please read that post for a deeper understanding.

Another helpful resource is the commentary that accompanies a reading on the same theme — 2 Peter 2:10-22 — which I wrote about in 2011.

Jesus’s message in today’s verses was for the Pharisees and the Jewish people. However, Peter gave the same warnings to his converts. Therefore, the context is both historical and contemporary.

In verse 43, Jesus spoke of an exorcised demon — ‘the unclean spirit’ — which then sought a new host. He might have meant the incomplete exorcisms that the Jewish hierarchy performed on the Jews who were thus afflicted. Jesus, on the other hand, permanently rid people of demons and healed their bodies and souls.

The unclean spirit then goes from person to person to see if it can lodge there. That evil spirit finds ‘waterless places’ — good souls in which it cannot settle.

It decides to return to its original host, now reformed and morally clean (verse 44). It brings with it seven other spirits, even more evil (verse 45). All now infest that person, making him (or her) even more sinful and corrupt than before. Think of the saying ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’.

Jesus ended by saying that it would be the same with the ‘evil generation’ of His time.

Matthew Henry explains the historical significance, which alluded to the destruction of the temple which took place nearly four decades later in 70 AD (emphases mine):

The body of that nation is here represented, First, As an apostate people. After the captivity in Babylon, they began to reform, left their idols, and appeared with some face of religion but they soon corrupted themselves again: though they never relapsed into idolatry, they fell into all manner of impiety and profaneness, grew worse and worse, and added to all the rest of their wickedness a wilful contempt of, and opposition to, Christ and his gospel. Secondly, As a people marked for ruin. A new commission was passing the seals against that hypocritical nation, the people of God’s wrath (like that, Isaiah 10:6), and their destruction by the Romans was likely to be greater than any other, as their sins had been more flagrant: then it was that wrath came upon them to the uttermost, 1 Thessalonians 2:15,16.

Henry then cautions Christians:

Let this be a warning to all nations and churches, to take heed of leaving their first love, of letting fall a good work of reformation begun among them, and returning to that wickedness which they seemed to have forsaken for the last state of such will be worse than the first.

Being a clean-living churchgoer without believing in Christ is likely to lead to eternal condemnation on the last day.

John MacArthur says:

You say, “Why? How is it that it is worse to be moral?” Simply, I think, because the sinful person who is aware of his sinfulness has more vigilance than the moral person who has no such awareness. I think what happens is when a person becomes self-righteous and moral, he then loses the sense of fearfulness about evil, and feels himself beyond the activity of Satan so that Satan can come in en masse, without that individual ever being aware, vigilant, or prepared to deal with it.

You’ll notice in verse 45, it says, “They enter and dwell there,” and the word ‘dwell’ is katoikeo, which means ‘to settle down and be at home.’ They are comfortable there, entrenched; it is the same word used in Ephesians 3:17, when Paul prays that Christ may settle down in your hearts by faith. They come in and find their permanent, settling place in the heart of a moral person. Better the person should have been immoral and face the immorality of his life than to be living under the illusion of morality and be demon-infested.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:15. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte.” In other words, to convert someone to the Pharisaic morality. “And when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Why so? Because the disciple who is discipled into self-righteous legalism is usually more committed to it than his teacher. The person who is new at it is usually more committed to it than the one who has been around a long time and seen all the loopholes. You are already sons of Hell by your morality without Christ and you are making double sons of Hell out of your proselytes. Morality makes a person a son of Hell, and the more you are subscribed to self-righteous morality, the more you intensify your hellish relationship.

I don’t believe, then, that the church’s message is morality in a vacuum without Jesus Christ. I think God has called us to preach the Gospel. Jesus didn’t preach morality; He preached salvation, repentance from sin. I am not interested in making America moral without Christ; all that will do is give them a false sense of security and maybe increase their prospects for damnation. I guess, in some ways, it’s better to be immoral than moral. It is better to be irreligious than religious. I find it much easier to reach someone who is overwhelmed with their sense of sin than to reach someone who is overwhelmed with their sense of righteousness, don’t you?

MacArthur then reminds us who sent our Lord to His death. The immoral people didn’t do it. The notionally holy people who considered themselves above reproach were responsible:

The harlots, thieves, and murderers didn’t do it; the religious people did it. That’s the curse of morality – moral, religious, self-righteous people, confident they are holy in themselves, are utterly deceived into believing that Satan has nothing to do with them, and they have no vigilance or protection, and they can be swarmed by demonic hosts. In the end is in verse 45, and the last state is worse than the first.

Self-righteousness and morality is a curse that ties men up and draws them away from true conviction that can bring salvation. Listen to an illustration from II Peter 2:20. Here, we have a picture of some people who even come to Christianity and listen to Jesus Christ’s message, and they have a head knowledge.

It says, “They have escaped the pollutions of the world.” It doesn’t say they have been cleansed or truly purged, but through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, the standards of the Lord, and the exposure to Christianity, they have escaped the world’s pollutions; they have cleaned up their act and “gotten religion.” They have started living the Christian moral code. But, “They are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”

Why? Because you have a greater judgment if you have a greater amount of knowledge. So not only is there an intensification of demonic activity potentiated, but there is definitely an intensification of judgment on that moral person. That is essentially the message of Romans 2. Then He gives a proverb to illustrate it. “‘A dog returns to his own vomit,'” and, “‘A sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'”

The Pharisees were blind to the evil lurking in their hearts and minds.

Legalists and moralists may be susceptible to the same.

In his commentary on Luke 11:24-26, MacArthur said:

There really is no more serious danger than the danger of morality. It’s like the leper with no sense of pain. Such a person destroys himself without knowing it. Leprosy is a nerve disease that obliterates feeling. And lepers rub off their fingers and rub off their feet and rub off their faces because they can’t feel anything. This is the deadly danger of morality.

So to attempt to clean your life up without Christ coming to dwell there is to be exposed to an even greater danger. That statement, “The last state of that man becomes worse than the first,” is very definitive. In the end, being moral is more dangerous than being immoral. There is no benefit in reformation without regeneration. And this is exactly what the Jews did, exactly what they did. And that’s why in verse 29, the next verse, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation.” Well they wouldn’t see it that way at all. They thought they were a righteous generation and that’s why they hated Jesus. They were moral but filthy. They were void of the purifying presence of God. They were damned by morality, damned by religion, damned by reformation.

For my exposition of 2 Peter 2:10-22, I used a sermon from the Revd Gil Rugh. He explained:

There is great danger in moral reformation. We don’t need reformation. We need regeneration. Keep that in mind. The church loses sight of this as it loses its hold on its responsibility to be the pillar and support of the truth. It gets caught up in all kinds of movements of moral reformation to clean up a life. But, do you realize we are making that person more a convert of hell? If I talk to a drunk, I don’t tell him he ought to clean up his life and stop drinking. It would make his relationship with his wife better, it would make his relationship with his children better. It would give him a better job. No. My goal is not to sweep clean the house. Do you realize that before, he was a drunk on his way to hell, and now he is a non-drunk on his way to hell. He is harder to reach now because he’ll go around and give testimonials about how he cleaned up his life.

There is a fine line between clean living and living in a certain way because we truly love the Lord.

May we live a Christian life through grace and faith rather than legalism and self-righteousness.

Next time: Matthew 12:46-50

 

 

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 (here and here).

Matthew 9:32-34

Jesus Heals a Man Unable to Speak

32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”

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Last week’s post discussed Jesus’s healing of the two blind men who followed Him into the house where He was staying in Capernaum.

His healing the deaf mute took place immediately afterward at the end of a very long day which involved raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead and healing the woman who had the 12-year blood flow. Before that, He condemned the pharisaical method of fasting and cured a paralytic. He was surrounded by crowds the whole time that day, except for brief periods: inside Jairus’s house and at Peter’s house when He healed the blind men.

The blind men with fully restored sight no sooner went away (verse 32) than a demon-possessed deaf mute stood before Him. He might have been someone in the crowd and was presented to Him. However, John MacArthur thinks he was a companion of the two blind men:

Now, this would have been one of their friends.  They were blind, he was deaf and dumb; and together they made a whole person …  And they immediately went out, and they got hold of their friend, “possessed with a demon, and they brought him in.”  This is the commitment of the men.  One of their fellow beggars.

He tells us that the word in Greek for the man’s affliction is

koufos.  It is translated in Matthew 11:5 as deaf.  It probably means deaf and dumb.

If one cannot hear, one cannot speak.

Matthew Henry says that the fact that a demon rendered this man deaf and mute illustrates that Satan is no friend of mankind (emphases mine):

His case, which was very sad. He was under the power of the devil in this particular instance, that he was disabled from speaking, Matthew 9:32. See the calamitous state of this world, and how various the afflictions of the afflicted are! We have no sooner dismissed two blind men, but we meet with a dumb man. How thankful should we be to God for our sight and speech! See the malice of Satan against mankind, and in how many ways he shows it.

That said:

Of the two, better a dumb devil than a blaspheming one.

However:

When the devil gets possession of a soul, it is made silent as to any thing that is good [,] dumb in prayers and praises, which the devil is a sworn enemy to.

Therefore, this state of being can be compared in our time to becoming a slave to the devil and sin, where we forsake a close relationship with the Lord for pleasure, greed, depravity and self-sufficiency.

As soon as Jesus cast out the demon, the man — now fully healed — spoke, causing the crowd to marvel (verse 33). They exclaimed that nothing like this had ever occurred in Israel.

Should we then deduce that the crowd converted that day and followed our Lord ever afterward? Only in the sense that they were curious and amazed.

Henry says that the crowd might have recalled Psalm 98:1:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.

However, he makes this observation:

The multitudes marvelled and well they might[,] though few believed, many wondered.

They followed Jesus to see miracles.

MacArthur likens the crowd to today’s cinema goers who go for a thrill and then leave it behind. At the time he preached his sermons on Matthew in the 1970s, The Exorcist was showing on the big screen:

I’m amazed at people today, you know.  They, they may, they go see these movies that scare them to death; scare them out of their wits and just sit there and let themselves be scared into a frenzy, sweat.  Some of them have to run out into the lobby at the scary times.  Why would people line up for blocks to see The Exorcist?  Well, you know, there’s a certain funny fascination about that.  As long as you’re sitting in a soft seat shoving popcorn in your mouth and you can leave when it’s over.  See, you, you don’t want to get in the situation.  You just don’t mind watching somebody else in it.  There’s a certain thing about that.  And I believe there was something of this fascination in these people who were terrorized by Christ, but also astounded and amazed at the supernatural.  But they wanted to make sure it was just at arm’s length; and when it began to crowd their status quo, that was the end of it: They wanted Him dead.

Jesus’s miracles were entertainment for the vast majority in the crowd, nothing more.

Another aspect of their fascination was that they expected a temporal Messiah, not a spiritual one.

They were not ready to leave Judaism under the manmade laws of the Pharisees. They were not ready to devote their lives to Jesus. They had what they needed in their lives. He was, sadly, for them, an exciting phenomenon, not the Son of God.

When Jesus became too threatening to the status quo, He had to go:

in Matthew chapter 21, they could make only one conclusion: “And the multitude,” it says, the same multitude that marveled.  That’s a broad word.  The multitude said, “Hosanna to the Son of David:  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.'”  They threw palm branches at His feet.  That’s the marveling multitude: “Isn’t He wonderful?  Oh, He’s the Messiah.”  The next thing you know, they got the word that He was going against the establishment; that He was preaching a message that they didn’t want to hear; that He was a threat to their security, a threat to their life.  But it says in Matthew 27 that the same multitude screamed at Him to be crucified, that Barabbas should be released, and Jesus should be executed.  But that’s how it is with fickle mobs, you see.  Marveling multitudes eventually screamed for His death.  The fickleness of that superficial fascination; it’s like John 6.  They followed Him for the free food, you know?  They really weren’t interested in what He said.  They liked Him at a distance.  They liked Him doing His miracles.  They were fascinated.  There was a certain awe.  Even though there was a certain terror involved, if you could keep it at arm’s length, it was okay.

The Pharisees were spiritually blind and deaf. Therefore, they accused our Lord of being in league with Satan in driving out demons (verse 34). Their reaction was as psychologically and spiritually complex as the crowd’s but for different reasons. They did not like His preaching, even though they should have recognised it, but they were spiritually bereft. They liked their privileged status and feared the crowd might reject their hold on them. They also did not think that Jesus had anything to say to them. They were the foremost among the self-sufficient. Furthermore, Jesus was not among their number. He did not mix in their circles nor did He have their training. He had to be derided, ridiculed and blasphemed then killed.

Ultimately, the Pharisees had to diminish His power among the people. For now, they shamefully lied about the source of His miracles. Henry says:

The Pharisees blasphemed, Matthew 9:34. When they could not gainsay the convincing evidence of these miracles, they fathered them upon the devil, as if they had been wrought by compact and collusion: he casteth out devils (say they) by the prince of the devilsa suggestion horrid beyond expression we shall hear more of it afterwards, and Christ’s answer to it (Matthew 12:25) only observe here, how evil men and seducers wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13), and it is both their sin and their punishment.

In closing, the parallel account of this healing — creative — miracle and Jesus’s response to the Pharisees is in Luke 11:14-23, about which I wrote last year.

Next time: Matthew 11:1

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 8:28-34

Jesus Heals Two Men with Demons

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes,[a] two demon-possessed[b] men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

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Last week’s post described the storm on the Sea — lake — of Galilee that struck fear into the disciples. They woke Jesus who ‘rebuked the winds and the sea’ to restore immediate calm. He then asked the disciples why they had so little faith.

Now they have crossed the lake and are in another region, that of the Gadarenes (verse 28). I wrote about Luke’s account of this story in 2013 here and here. Both of those links explain more about the background to this story. Luke’s and Mark’s accounts (Mark 5:1-20 is in the three-year Lectionary) are much longer and record that the man — only one — wanted to become Jesus’s disciple. Jesus told him to go home and tell his friends what happened to him. No doubt he would do better among his own in being a living testament to Jesus’s healing power.

The Wikipedia map at the right shows Gadara and Gerasa. They are inland, but as my posts on Luke’s account explain, thanks to John MacArthur, those were probably the largest towns nearby. In any event, this region was known as the Decapolis, which also included what is now called Kersa. Kersa, MacArthur says, has many lakeside cliffs with tombs. What the Gospels describe is accurate.

Matthew says that there were two demon-possessed men, not one. They had extraordinary strength because of the demons working in them. They had to live away from everyone else, hence the tombs.

The demons spoke when they saw Jesus (verse 29), addressing Him as ‘the Son of God’, asking Him what His business was with them and why He was coming so early. That was a reference to the Second Coming.

Matthew Henry analyses the demons’ words (emphases mine):

Even the devils know, and believe, and confess Christ to be the Son of God, and yet they are devils still, which makes their enmity to Christ so much the more wicked, and indeed a perfect torment to themselves for how can it be otherwise, to oppose one they know to be the Son of God? Note, It is not knowledge, but love, that distinguishes saints from devils

Note, It is possible for me to call Jesus the Son of God, and yet have nothing to do with him. Secondly, It is as true, that the devils desire not to have any thing to do with Christ as a Ruler[;] they hate him, they are filled with enmity against him, they stand in opposition to him, and are in open rebellion against his crown and dignity.

A herd of pigs was feeding nearby (verse 30). How could this be in a Jewish region? Henry surmises:

Probably, lying in the outskirts of the land, there were many Gentiles among them, to whom this herd of swine belonged: or they kept them to be sold, or bartered, to the Romans, with whom they had now great dealings, and who were admirers of swine’s flesh.

He says that as a punishment to the people for breaking the Law in this manner, God allowed demon possession of these two men.

Demons don’t like the thought of dying. They assumed that Jesus would cast them out of the men. So they asked Him to let them continue their existence in the pigs (verse 31). He granted permission, they invaded the pigs and their incredible strength drove the herd into the sea (verse 32).

This should tell us how powerful Satan and his minions are. They bring nothing but destruction and death to souls:

See what an industrious enemy Satan is, and how expeditious he will lose no time in doing mischief …

Note, The possession which the devil gets is for destruction. Thus the devil hurries people to sin, hurries them to that which they have resolved against, and which they know will be shame and grief to them: with what a force doth the evil spirit work in the children of disobedience, when by so many foolish and hurtful lusts they are brought to act in direct contradiction, not only to religion, but to right reason, and their interest in this world!

The herdsmen rushed off to tell the townspeople what had happened to the men, now delivered (verse 33). The townspeople came to meet with Jesus and asked Him to leave (verse 34).

You would think they would be grateful and relieved, but they want nothing to do with Him.

John MacArthur explains:

By the way, this is the first recorded instance of open opposition to the Messiah and it all just mounts from here on.  He exposed them.  They despised him.  He was better than they, greater than they, purer than they, more powerful than they, more holy than they, and they resented that.  And they felt dirty and inadequate in His presence because He was so holy, and they felt impotent

To a believer, rejection of Christ for those reasons is an odd reaction to have. Yet, it is entirely normal. Even God-fearing people in Scripture responded likewise:

We’re right back to Isaiah 6.  “Woe is me.”  Woe, that’s the word of a curse.  Isaiah, the best man in the land, pronounced a curse on himself when he saw God because his unholiness was exposed.  Peter, when He saw Jesus Christ and the majesty of His power, said, “Depart from me for I’m a sinful man, O Lord.”  And last week I told you, when the storm came they were afraid, and when Jesus stilled the storm they were exceedingly afraid.  They were more afraid of the calm than they were of the storm because they knew God was in their boat and they were in awe of God. 

With the Gadarenes:

They saw the supernatural and it panicked them.  They saw One who could control the demons.  They saw One who could control animals.  They saw One who could take the soul of a man and give it back to him as white and pure as the driven snow, and they were scared to death.  They saw God, is what they saw.  I don’t know if they all understood that, but they knew it was supernatural, and men don’t like that.  It makes them uncomfortable: “Give us back our pigs and go away.”  Men can handle pigs; they can’t handle God. The mystery of the supernatural they can’t handle.

In the larger context of the Gospel story, MacArthur says that nearly everyone rejected Christ:

They couldn’t tolerate Jesus because of His perfection.  They couldn’t tolerate Him because of His absolute holiness.  He was so far beyond them that He unmasked them, that He showed the stupidity of their own lives.  That’s why they had to kill Him.  And here it all just begins to build.  They saw Him, they saw the power, they were absolutely panicked in awe of God.  Instead of falling at His feet in worship, they said, “Get out.  Go away.  We don’t want you.”

One would have thought that witnessing His miracles would have had an overwhelming power of conversion on more people. But that wasn’t the case:

… the people who saw the miracles didn’t believe.  They nailed Him to a cross and they’d seen miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle.  They still didn’t believe.  That just made them hate Him more and more and more and more.  People think today that if they can just show everybody a pile of miracles everybody will believe.  No, because some people, when exposed in the presence of the awesomeness of holy God, will literally run because they love their darkness. Have you ever picked up a rock and found a whole lot of little bugs under it that have been there for a long time, and as soon as you expose them to the light they just split, try to find a hole?  That’s the way men are.  You expose them to the light of God and they love their darkness.  They’ll go right back into the earth to find it again.  That’s where these were.

Loving darkness is the devil’s work.

May we follow the Light of the World today and always.

Next time: Matthew 9:1-8

John F MacArthurA few weeks ago, one of my readers asked about demon infestation and manifestation in the present day.

This is understandable. So much evil manifests itself from verbal harassment to incest to murder that it is difficult to understand it all.

In recent years, some nominally Christian cultures have independent pastors — often called ‘Apostle’ or ‘Prophet’ — who perform deliverance rituals to rid seriously troubled people of ‘demons’.

Yet, formal, long-established denominations are careful about using exorcism except in very rare circumstances, if ever.

When I wrote about Luke 4:33-37 in June 2013, I cited one of John MacArthur’s sermons, ‘Jesus’s Authority over Demons, Part 3’.

In that sermon, MacArthur cites the various examples of demons in the Bible manifesting themselves. It is interesting that most did so during Jesus’s time on earth, fewer before or since in that Exorcist type of way. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Back in Genesis chapter 6 we find the first occasion of demons manifest. They were working before that, Satan and his forces, but we see them manifest in Genesis chapter 6 because it says in the first few verses that the sons of God, which is a term to describe these demons when they were originally created as angels, they can be called sons of God, angels are so called in Scripture, sons not in the sense of being born like people are born, but sons in the sense of being created by God, these sons of God in the case of Genesis 6 who are now fallen demons cohabitated with the daughters of men. That is to say, demons entered male bodies prior to the Flood, cohabitated with women for the specific purpose of producing what I suppose they felt would be a supremely wicked offspring. A bizarre kind of activity they engaged in.

It is also discussed in Jude 6 which comments on Genesis 6, and 2 Peter chapter 2 where it says angels left their normal habitation and came down and went after strange flesh, that is demons possessing male bodies cohabitating with women to produce what they assumed would be particularly wicked offspring. Demons then indwelt bodies of men in Genesis 6 for specific purpose, that’s the first thing that’s anything like demon possession. It’s not…it’s not the full range of demon possession which seems to be a sort of permanent indwelling for the purpose of control and torment, but it does indicate in Genesis 6 that demons can move into people and accomplish their bizarre intentions.

He adds:

We never see demon possession in the rest of the Old Testament. It isn’t to say that demons don’t move into people, they do but they prefer to be hidden there. After all, the New Testament tells us in 2 Corinthians that they are disguised as angels of light. They would rather operate in a clandestine subtle way …

But it wasn’t rare during the time of Jesus. Jesus was so powerful, His message was so powerful, His person was so powerful that when He came into the world and He began to preach the gospel and He began to come to people with the message of His Kingdom, demons in sheer terror began to expose themselves, I believe, involuntarily out of sheer trauma.

As for our era, MacArthur says:

you can go through your whole lifetime and never see a demon manifestation through a person. As I told you, in my whole lifetime and I’ve been pretty much at the cutting edge, at the front edge of the battle for the gospel, I’ve only perhaps three times actually engaged in verbalization with a demon speaking through a person. They don’t like to do that. They don’t like to manifest themselves. So demon…demon manifestation in a possessed person is a very rare phenomen[on].

That said, yes, demons do work through people. Matthew Henry used different words in the 17th century — the devil or an unclean spirit — more in line with how I was brought up to understand evil. I remain sceptical of using the word ‘demon’ too often except in discussing the New Testament; it is all too easy for us to feed on today’s Christian sensationalism about deliverance and labelling people as demon-possessed.

Back now to MacArthur who tells us where today’s subtle unclean spirits dwell:

They are disguised as angels of light. They are disguised as ministers of righteousness. They don’t want to manifest who they really are …

They would rather operate in a person who is teaching in a liberal seminary. They would rather be a Methodist…they would be in a Methodist pastor who advocates homosexuality. They can get a lot more done subtly. It appears to be high church, it appears to be sophisticated, it appears to be even elitist in terms of its academics. But these people who are the ‘human instruments’ of these disguised demons sound the same as Satan. If you listen to them, these liberal people, they tell you you can’t believe the Bible. Isn’t that what Satan said in the Garden, you can’t believe God, He’s not trustworthy? They tell you the God of the Bible is not good. Isn’t that what Satan implied? God isn’t good, if He was good He wouldn’t tell you you couldn’t eat of that good tree over there. You can’t trust God. You can’t believe God. God isn’t going to look out for your best.

When we see or read of evil, we rightly see it for what it is. Think of the crime stories in the papers or, tragically, those who have suffered violent abuse first-hand. There is no question that Satan and his minions are at work in those circumstances, including those incidents which are church-related and done in the name of Christ or the Bible.

As MacArthur explains of the aforementioned apostate preachers:

Whether they are actually indwelt by demons or not, we can’t know unless there would be some point at which that manifestation occurred. But it’s not usual that they would manifest themselves.

Therefore, it is important to not focus as much on demon possession as it is to pray that God’s grace continues to overcome Satan in this world — in both the civil and ecclesiastical arenas.

And recall what MacArthur said about the empty soul of the moralistic convert from last week’s exposition of Luke 11:24-26:

Cleaned up but empty. And if the living God is not present there, you have a disaster ...

There really is no more serious danger than the danger of morality. It’s like the leper with no sense of pain. Such a person destroys himself without knowing it. Leprosy is a nerve disease that obliterates feeling. And lepers rub off their fingers and rub off their feet and rub off their faces because they can’t feel anything. This is the deadly danger of morality.

Bible read me 2Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

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

Luke 11:24-26

Return of an Unclean Spirit

 24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

——————————————————————————

Today’s reading relates to superficial morality, present in Jesus’s day and in ours. 

Jesus’s words here are important for anyone who has ever been harmed by moralistic churches or families.

In last week’s post, some of the Judeans — influenced by the self-righteous Jewish hierarchy — accused our Lord of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul, or Satan.

Matthew’s account, also in that post, carries Jesus’s warning about the divine condemnation of anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit.

What followed were Christ’s words about His true followers, those who display grace-filled fruits of faith (Matthew 12:33-37):

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

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

These words went over the heads of the scribes and Pharisees confronting Him. Instead of examining their own thoughts and conduct, they turned to Jesus and asked Him for ‘a sign’. Jesus responded by calling them an ‘evil and adulterous generation’ (Matthew 12:39).

Following His rebuke, He then said (Matthew 12:43-45, emphases mine):

Return of an Unclean Spirit

 43“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

When the early Church was being established, St Peter wrote similarly to his converts (2 Peter 2:20):

20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

Now on to Luke’s verses. In verse 24, Jesus referred to the demons which had been temporarily exorcised by certain Jewish priests who performed this function in His era. He was also referring, John MacArthur says, to those who converted under John the Baptist and had fallen back into sin. That was not John the Baptist’s fault but the result of the convert placing more trust in morality than grace-filled faith. The result was a moralistic hypocrite, no different to the Jewish priests condemning Jesus.

Matthew Henry explains the phenomenon of false conversion:

(1.) The condition of a formal hypocrite, his bright side and his dark side. His heart still remains the devil’s house he calls it his own, and he retains his interest in it and yet, [1.] The unclean spirit is gone out. He was not driven out by the power of converting grace there was none of that violence which the kingdom of heaven suffers but he went out, withdrew for a time, so that the man seemed not to be under the power of Satan as formerly, nor so followed with his temptations. Satan is gone, or has turned himself into an angel of light. [2.] The house is swept from common pollutions, by a forced confession of sin, as Pharaoh’s–a feigned contrition for it, as Ahab’s,–and a partial reformation, as Herod’s. There are those that have escaped the pollutions of the world, and yet are still under the power of the god of this world, 2 Peter 2:20. The house is swept, but it is not washed and Christ hath said, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me the house must be washed, or it is none of his. Sweeping takes off only the loose dirt, while the sin that besets the sinner, the beloved sin, is untouched. It is swept from the filth that lies open to the eye of the world, but it is not searched and ransacked for secret filthiness, Matthew 23:25. It is swept, but the leprosy is in the wall, and will be till something more be done. [3.] The house is garnished with common gifts and graces. It is not furnished with any true grace, but garnished with the pictures of all graces. Simon Magus was garnished with faith, Balaam with good desires, Herod with a respect for John, the Pharisees with many external performances. It is garnished, but it is like a potsherd covered with silver dross, it is all paint and varnish, not real, not lasting. The house is garnished, but the property is not altered it was never surrendered to Christ, nor inhabited by the Spirit. Let us therefore take heed of resting in that which a man may have and yet come short.

This is what Jesus means by the expelled demons seeking refreshment and a new home (verse 24).

He went on to explain that the returning demon finds a clean, tidy soul trying to be morally correct (verse 25). Consequently, the demon invites more evil spirits there, worse than he (verse 26). This multiplication of evil spirits puts the inhabited soul in a worse state than before he temporarily repented.

Recall the well-known maxim, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’. This is its spiritual equivalent.

John MacArthur explains what a clean but empty dwelling means:

That’s the problem. Cleaned up but empty. And if the living God is not present there, you have a disaster. Listen to 2 Peter 2:20, “If after people have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” people who get some idea about Christ, some idea about the gospel and they’re attracted to it and they want to clean their lives up so they escape certain defilements. “But if after that they are entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” And Peter has to be echoing what Jesus said. If you just try to clean your life up, maybe even in the name of Jesus, but it’s empty in there, you’re going to go right back, get entangled again, be overcome and end up in a worse condition. And then Peter says this amazing statement. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than having known it turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. He says they’re like dogs returning to their vomit and pigs returning to the mire.

MacArthur cautions us against adopting an extreme morality not in keeping with the New Covenant, i.e. ‘If you don’t do this [e.g. refrain from alcohol and eating pork], you’ll rot in hell’. Or pointing a finger at others, telling them decisively that we’re saved and they’re not. He warns:

There really is no more serious danger than the danger of morality. It’s like the leper with no sense of pain. Such a person destroys himself without knowing it. Leprosy is a nerve disease that obliterates feeling. And lepers rub off their fingers and rub off their feet and rub off their faces because they can’t feel anything. This is the deadly danger of morality.

He adds:

So to attempt to clean your life up without Christ coming to dwell there is to be exposed to an even greater danger. That statement, “The last state of that man becomes worse than the first,” is very definitive. In the end, being moral is more dangerous than being immoral. There is no benefit in reformation without regeneration. And this is exactly what the Jews did, exactly what they did. And that’s why in verse 29, the next verse, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation.” Well they wouldn’t see it that way at all. They thought they were a righteous generation and that’s why they hated Jesus. They were moral but filthy. They were void of the purifying presence of God. They were damned by morality, damned by religion, damned by reformation.

Some of my readers might find MacArthur’s introduction to his sermon surprising, given that he is a conservative Protestant himself. Yet, he prefaced his exposition of Luke’s verses by saying to his congregation:

We have all in our lifetime and certainly in recent years been exposed to a current trend in evangelicalism in America that we could call a trend toward morality. It is not exclusive to evangelicals. The Roman Catholic Church has always upheld morality. The Mormons have upheld morality. There are many other religious groups, cults, that make an issue out of morality. Many years ago there was a moral movement in America known as Moral Rearmament. And then more recent years there was the Moral Majority and now that Moral Majority is sort of been redefined as The Religious Right. And we’ve always heard a lot about the importance of Judeo Christian values and how critical it is to teach morality to our children and to call America back to moral living and moral conduct. There are many evangelical churches that have made a major emphasis on this issue of morality, many evangelicals, as you well know, have become involved in politicking at all levels in order to effect moral change in America through lobbying, through use of money to buy influence here and there, by pressure, politics, by protests and etc., etc.

There is a grave concern about the immorality of our world and about the immorality of our nation. And certainly I agree that morality is better than immorality, that morality has inherent in it a certain sort of human goodness. And obviously I am supportive of what is the divine standard, the moral code that God has revealed on the pages of Scripture in His very clear commandments.

Having said that, however, I want to say something that may surprise you. Morality is more dangerous than immorality. Morality is more dangerous than immorality.

Now that may shock you, it may surprise you. But it shouldn’t … There is a very serious danger in moral reformation without regeneration. There’s a very serious danger in endeavoring to live your life according to Jude[o-]Christian values without salvation. Reformation without transformation puts a person in a very, very dangerous position.

I suppose the greatest illustration that we know anything about in human history is the Pharisees. They were classic moralists down to the minutia. The Apostle Paul being one of them could even say that a…measuring his life against the Law he was blameless. They lived by a complex ethical code. They demanded that life be controlled by moral standards. They demanded this ethical moral behavior be based upon the laws of their own tradition and the hottest hell awaited them. Morality gained them nothing and it cost them everything. It was morality that caused them to reject the Messiah. That’s why Jesus said to them, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” It is the righteous, it is the moral, it is the religious, it is the self-satisfied, self-congratulating, moral people, the people who uphold the traditional values who are resistant to the true diagnosis of their spiritual condition.

So, if you’ve been hurt by church, especially via your families, that damage had nothing to do with Christ or His teachings. You were living and worshipping with modern-day Pharisees.

This is why it is important to follow a moderate course, the way Christ taught. Focus on Him, God’s grace and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Pray for the Trinity’s help and read the New Testament as often as you can. Pray for wisdom and understanding, not morality or compulsory good works. True fruits of faith are sure to follow.

Next time: Luke 11:27-28

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