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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 10:1-8

Peter and Cornelius

10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day[a] he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

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We are entering another exciting chapter in Acts. This book is a tremendous documentation of the explosive expansion of the early Church.

The previous chapters recounted the countless number of Jewish converts to Christianity. We also read about the growth of the Church among the Samaritans, who were half Jew, half Gentile because they intermarried with Assyrians. St Luke, the author of Acts, then documented the conversion of the Gentiles, the first of whom is Cornelius.

Cornelius was a Roman centurion of the Italian cohort — regiment, literally ‘band’ — who was stationed in Caesarea (verse 1). John MacArthur tells us:

Josephus, I think it is, tells us that there were five cohorts stationed in Caesarea, so they had a lotta Roman soldiers in that place…Make it a little study. It’s interesting. Sometime study centurions in the New Testament. You’ll find that they always appear to be good men. In fact, Jesus had some most interesting conversations with centurions.

Matthew Henry gives us more information (emphases mine below):

We are here told that he was a great man and a good man–two characters that seldom meet, but here they did; and where they do meet they put a lustre upon each other: goodness makes greatness truly valuable, and greatness makes goodness much more serviceable. 1. Cornelius was an officer of the army, Acts 10:1. He was at present quartered in Cesarea, a strong city, lately re-edified and fortified by Herod the Great, and called Cesarea in honour of Augustus Cæsar. It lay upon the sea-shore, very convenient for the keeping up of a correspondence between Rome and its conquests in those parts. The Roman governor or proconsul ordinarily resided here, Acts 23:23,24,25:6. Here there was a band, or cohort, or regiment, of the Roman army, which probably was the governor’s life-guard, and is here called the Italian band, because, that they might be the more sure of their fidelity, they were all native Romans, or Italians. Cornelius had a command in this part of the army. His name, Cornelius was much used among the Romans, among some of the most ancient and noble families. He was an officer of considerable rank and figure, a centurion. We read of one of that rank in our Saviour’s time, of whom he gave a great commendation, Matthew 8:10.

It is also interesting that the Lord chose a centurion rather than a philosopher or, as in the case of some of the Apostles, a fisherman.

Matthew Henry explains. The first sentence is well worth remembering. The last sentence is particularly important to note, as it would appear this was a sort of judgement on the Jews for rejecting Christ:

Fishermen, unlearned and ignorant men, were the first of the Jewish converts, but not so of the Gentiles; for the world shall know that the gospel has that in it which may recommend it to men of polite learning and a liberal education, as we have reason to think this centurion was. Let not soldiers and officers of the army plead that their employment frees them from the restraints which some others are under, and, giving them an opportunity of living more at large, may excuse them if they be not religious; for here was an officer of the army that embraced Christianity, and yet was neither turned out of his place nor turned himself out. And, lastly, it was a mortification to the Jews that not only the Gentiles were taken into the church, but that the first who was taken in was an officer of the Roman army, which was to them the abomination of desolation.

Verse 2 tells us that Cornelius was a ‘devout’ man. He and his household ‘feared God’. He gave alms generously and prayed ‘continually’. He was a Gentile following Jewish beliefs and customs, although not circumcision, in his case. No doubt he followed the Jewish laws about charity and adhered to their frequent prayer schedule.

MacArthur describes the three different types of Gentiles, some of whom believed in the God of Israel. It is no accident that the words ‘feared God’ are in verse 2, because the God-fearer was one of these three types:

Now, the term feared God became a technical term for Gentiles. There were three kinds of Gentiles in the mind of a Jew. One kind was just the plain, old, run-of-the-mill Gentile. The other kind, and this is getting better on the scale, the other kind was a God-fearer quote. This was a Gentile who had been sick of his own religion, the immoralities and the idolatries of his own faith, and he was sick of the whole polytheistic thing, and he had come to the conclusion in his mind that the God of Israel was the true God. He actually began to pray to that God. He perhaps become involved in the worship in certain synagogues or temple, or the temple itself. Much like, you remember, the eunuch, chapter 8, whom Philip met. But he was…he was involved in the Jewish ethic. He believed in the ethics of the Old Testament, but he had never been circumcised. He was not then a full proselyte. He was what they called a God-fearer.

The third level of Gentile would be the proselyte who had come all the way to Judaism, actually gone through the act of circumcision, and fully identified himself with Israel and was considered to be a Jew in a spiritual sense. Now you have all three. Well, Cornelius is the guy in the middle. He’s the God-fearer. He is not a full Jew, so he is to be considered a Gentile…but he did fear God. He was sick of the immorality and the emptiness of his own religion. He had attached himself to the Jewish religion. He didn’t accept the ceremonial laws, perhaps, and the circumcision, etc., but he often attended worship, no doubt. He believed in one God and in the ethics of the Old Testament.

At the ‘ninth hour of the day’, Cornelius received a vision from an angel of the Lord (verse 3). The ninth hour of the day was three o’clock in the afternoon. It is significant, because that was the time of the ritual sacrifice in the temple. Devout Jews prayed at that time of day, and, in Acts 10:30, Cornelius said that is what he was doing.

The angel addressed Cornelius by name. Henry explains:

he called him by his name, Cornelius, to intimate the particular notice God took of him.

Not surprisingly, Cornelius was terrified and asked what the matter was (verse 4). No doubt he thought the Lord was going to reprimand him in some way. Henry tells us:

The wisest and best men have been struck with fear upon the appearance of any extra-ordinary messenger from heaven; and justly, for sinful man knows that he has no reason to expect any good tidings thence. And therefore Cornelius cries, “What is it, Lord? What is the matter?” This he speaks as one afraid of something amiss, and longing to be eased of that fear, by knowing the truth; or as one desirous to know the mind of God, and ready to comply with it, as Joshua: What saith my Lord unto his servant? And Samuel: Speak, for thy servant heareth.

The angel reassures Cornelius that his prayers and alms have ascended to God. That is from the Old Testament and one of the reasons that incense was used, the fragrant smoke being a visible symbol of prayers and sacrifices rising to God.

Henry cites Leviticus:

Cornelius prayed, and gave alms, not as the Pharisees, to be seen of men, but in sincerity, as unto God; and he is here told that they were come up for a memorial before God. They were upon record in heaven, in the book of remembrance that is written there for all that fear God, and shall be remembered to his advantage: “Thy prayers shall be answered, and thine alms recompensed.” The sacrifices under the law are said to be for a memorial. See Leviticus 2:9,16,5:12,6:15. And prayers and alms are our spiritual offerings, which God is pleased to take cognizance of, and have regard to.

Some people consider themselves Christians, yet they do not pray daily. Prayer is worship. Prayer is our active acknowledgement of God the Father and God the Son. It’s essential to the Christian life. Furthermore, God hears our prayers and blesses us accordingly.

MacArthur points out:

You know, it seems to me that as I study the Bible, great things always happen when people are in prayer. God moved on Cornelius when he was in prayer. You’re gonna see in a minute that it was Peter, when he was praying, that God moved on, as well. Prayer’s a great place to be, on your knees before God, for God to speak, and here it happens.

God moves in response to prayer. You say, “What was Cornelius praying about?” I don’t know what he was praying about, but I can take a good guess. I think he was saying, “God, I wanna know more about You. I want the fullness.” He was searching for more light and God was about to invade him with light, and here came the angel, the angelic appearance.

The angel told Cornelius to send men to Joppa and to bring Peter to his house (verse 5). Note that the angel did not tell Cornelius to go himself, but to send his men instead.

Two things are striking about this verse. The first is that there was an action to be performed in obedience to the Lord. The second is that Cornelius was not to meet Peter himself in Joppa.

MacArthur takes this further. This is really important:

God not only chooses the receiver and responds to the searching heart of the receiver and prepares the receiver, but God gives the receiver the opportunity to respond actively. Now God could’ve said through this angel, “Cornelius, all you have to do is these steps. Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life or whatever?” And he could’ve gone through the Gospel, see. He could’ve simply gone right to the Gospel, said, “Cornelius, do you believe.” ________ “I believe.” “It’s over, Cornelius, great.” But, no, He didn’t do that.

No, you see, Paul said that we were sent to the world for the obedience of faith, Romans 1. You see, God always wants to tie with faith an act of obedience, because that’s what the Christian life is all about. You might as well learn it at the beginning. That’s why the Bible says, “If you believe in your heartRomans 10:9 and 10, and do what else?...confess with your mouth, the Lord Jesus Christ, you’ll be saved.” God wants some kind of act of obedience tied in with that salvation. So He gives to…to Cornelius the opportunity to be obedient; and isn’t it interesting that if I were Cornelius, here would’ve been my reaction. “Uh, can I go myself? Why do I have to send guys? That means they’ll go there, and they’ll get him, and he’ll have to come here, and that’s a lot of time. I wanna get there.”

I don’t read that in the text. Praise the Lord, he was obedient. He was believing God, and he was obedient. You say, “Well, why would God take this time?” I think there’s two reasons. No. 1, I think was the fact that God wanted Peter also to act on faith, ’cause Peter was gonna have to pack up and head for Cornelius’ house strictly on faith. I mean to have a bunch of Roman soldiers arrive at his door and say, “Come on, we’re taking you to a man who wants to see ya.” That’s a little scary. Roman soldiers.

Secondly, I think, in order to break the barriers down, that the Lord wanted Peter to lead Cornelius to Christ in Cornelius’ own house, which no Jew would ever enter, and so God had the plan laid out, and Cornelius didn’t hassle God. He believed and obeyed.

The angel told Cornelius that Peter was lodging at Simon the tanner’s house by the sea in Joppa (verse 6).

Last week’s entry explained the Jewish opprobrium towards tanners. Their profession was unclean, therefore, they, too were unclean. Tanning also smells, even today. Yet, Peter stayed with Simon for a long time, probably two years. From this, we see the inclusivity of Christianity, which the Apostle himself displayed.

MacArthur tells us why tanners lived by the sea:

Tanners had their house by the seaside, because they needed the salt water for the tanning processes.

After the angel left him, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier (verse 7). He explained the vision to them and sent them to Joppa (verse 8). Last week’s entry also discussed Joppa, more about which can be found at BiblePlaces.com.

MacArthur ties this vision and obedience together for us:

Cornelius is getting prepared. What have we seen in the preparation of the receiver over here? We’ve seen 1) God chose him. 2) God responded to his open heart. 3) God prepared the soil with the proper information and instruction. 4) God promises more light. “He shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.” 5) God asks for the obedience of faith. Meanwhile, He prepares the messenger, Peter, down in Joppa.

Peter’s preparation — also a vision — is the subject of next week’s post. Peter learned another great lesson in his life which further aided his powerful ministry.

Next time — Acts 10:9-16

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On January 27, 2017 I wrote about the Deep State, which included an abridged description of it from former Congressional staffer and author Mike Lofgren.

On Wednesday, February 22, Alex ‘Infowars’ Jones gave an AMA — Ask Me Anything — interview to Reddit’s The_Donald. Questions and the transcript are here. Below is the full YouTube AMA, which was the highlight of a special Infowars broadcast:

The AMA starts at the beginning of the video and lasts for nearly three hours, ending at 2:54:00.

I don’t recommend many videos, but this one is particularly good as a) an explanation of how globalism works and b) a call to believe in Christ our Lord.

Even though I know most of the information Jones discusses, I found the 1:00:00 to 2:33:00 segment really worthwhile.

I’m going to summarise the high points of what Jones talked about, but will take them out of order, as the Q & A went back and forth on certain topics.

How globalism and the Deep State came about

Jones said that a global plan to control mankind came about in the 19th century. He mentioned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a good example of the knowledge among a small group of people about what the future would bring. It was a very early time to bring electricity into a book, when most towns and cities would not have an electricity grid until decades later.

When the Fabians were established, they were interested in controlling mankind through eugenics and other means. They, other well-placed Europeans and America’s corporate elite got together to engineer these plans. The overriding theme was control over others — specifically the people they perceived as the lower orders.

Jones said that, in the early 20th century, the idea of machines controlling man intrigued this group of people. Thomas Watson — IBM’s founder — spent several years in Germany. He and his corporation became big players for the Third Reich. (I saw where someone online laughed at this the other night. However, it’s true. A number of well respected newspapers carried the story in the 1980s — pre-Internet. It was common knowledge for anyone who cared to read about it.) IBM was not the only corporation and Watson not the only wealthy man to aid, abet and make money off helping the Germans during that time and into the Second World War.

How the Deep State works today

Jones explained that people are bought off all the time. Many of the titans of technology have been compromised — receiving large sums of money — to do the Deep State’s bidding. The most recent examples of this have been the censorship and bans exercised by Facebook and Twitter.

Jones said that when he had a cable access television programme in the 1990s, critical of the Clinton administration in Washington, he was offered a trip to DC to meet then-president Bill Clinton — and $100m — if he would stop criticising Bill on air. Jones refused.

This leads him to believe that some of the biggest players aren’t making money off their genius and foresight alone. They are bought off by the Deep State (political, intelligence communities) and globalists to serve common elite interests.

Jones also mentioned that Bill Gates’s father was the chairman — not public president — of Planned Parenthood. Therefore, Bill had an ‘in’ to entrepreneurship via Dad’s connections. He was far from an ordinary guy writing computer programs in the family garage.

Jones tells his father’s story

Jones said that his father was a teenage engineering genius and had his own radio show in Texas during his adolescence.

Such brilliance brought him into contact with powerful people, who took him on private tours of various research facilities. They promised him the world if he would get a university degree. He could work for them and make a lot of money. They added, ‘But, you understand, you’ll also have to do some bad things.’

Jones’s father thought about the offer, what it entailed in the long run and politely refused. He pursued dentistry instead and became a dental surgeon.

How Jones got involved in investigative journalism

Those who regularly watch The Alex Jones Show know that he was a precocious teenager. At the age of 16, he was going to parties thrown by university students in a town in Texas, which he left unidentified (probably Rockwall, near Dallas).

He said that, at one of these, the mother of the student hosting the party was openly snorting cocaine. A sheriff’s car pulled up to the house. Jones was certain the house would be raided. But, no. The sheriff’s men brought in bags of cocaine and other drugs to sell, as if it were nothing. They had already established an arrangement with the woman.

He said that a week or so later, the same law enforcement officers spoke at a local anti-drug meeting, warning about the dangers of narcotics. When it came time for the public to ask questions, Jones — age 16 — got up and told them they were the same officers who sold drugs at the party he had recently attended.

Jones said that, afterwards, the officers pulled him aside and got him to a private room where they roughed him up. They told him to be quiet, otherwise, they would make sure he was gang raped by violent men whom they had already lined up. They told him to meet them again, but Jones did not go. Meanwhile, Jones’s father, a dental surgeon, had connections in town and managed to smooth things over. Nonetheless, those connections told him to move himself and his family out of town as soon as possible for their own safety.

The Jones family moved to Austin. Jones’s mother is from there originally and still has family there. That is why he remains there today with his own family.

How people get drawn into the Deep State

Jones said that players in the Deep State lure others in through the promise of influence, power and money.

Drawing new people in is easy when they find themselves in compromising situations through parties, perhaps involving paedophilia. The Deep State then has that person under their control. If that person wants to maintain his notional propriety — e.g. in public office — he must do as the Deep State dictates.

Jones said that it is better for intelligent or otherwise gifted people to resist friendly overtures from the Deep State at the outset. Be polite, say thank you, then walk away.

He said that once someone gets involved with the Deep State — even if they try not to become victims of blackmail — it is very difficult to walk away. He is quite certain, based on what insiders have told him, that Steve Jobs was murdered. He thinks that Jobs wanted out. However, because of what Jobs knew, he would have to be removed the picture entirely. Otherwise, he might have revealed what is really going on behind the scenes.

Jones also said that people in the highest echelons come across as very courteous and cordial. This is how innocent people get drawn into their web.

He made it clear that colluding with the Deep State was ‘selling a birthright’ and ‘selling your soul’. Never take money, favours or a position of influence from people allying with the powers of darkness, which is what the upper echelons are involved with.

Why globalists and the Deep State hate Trump

President Donald Trump wants everyone to have the same opportunity that he did to get ahead and make a good life for themselves and their families, Jones said. The globalists and Deep State, on the other hand, want everyone’s standard of living gradually lowered so that people have no more individual power over themselves, their families or their assets.

Jones said that Trump has always wanted what is right for people. Although, in some respects Trump has not been an angel, overall, he embraces a life-affirming philosophy. Jones said that the brutal  presidential campaign humbled Trump and made him realise that there was no one he could rely on completely. Jones said Trump could only put himself in the hands of Almighty God, from whom all good things come.

Jones pointed out that Trump is continuing to undergo the same ordeals in the White House. Once again, he knows he can rely only on God.

The upper echelons trying to destroy humanity through Marxism, Communism, the family and sexuality see that Trump is a good man. Jones called him an ‘innocent’. He explained that Trump, whilst far from being naive, does not understand how evil people can work against their fellow human beings and oppose life-affirming policies and measures that will help the American people.

The spiritual battle

Time and time again, Jones emphasised the spiritual battle that America is going through right now.

He explained that he decided to do the AMA because he wanted to make it clear to those Americans ‘who are not worldly’ — meaning God-fearing — that there is real evil going on today and that they need to be aware of it.

He said that the evil is now out in the open. The Left, Big Media and others:

aren’t even trying to hide it any more, that’s how bad it is.

George Soros

Someone from The_Donald asked if things would improve once George Soros passes away.

Jones replied that George Soros was one of only several at the top determined to destroy goodness in the world. He said that Soros has his own acolytes prepared to continue the fight. They have a battle plan and know what to do. Even worse, Jones asserted that Soros himself is controlled. He’s not the man in charge. There are people above him exerting their influence.

Jones also downplayed Soros’s influence by saying that although the man lives and breathes, he is spiritually dead, inferring that he really has no meaningful life anyway, so there is no need to worry about him.

Jones calls people to Christ

Jones gave two or three sermonettes on the importance of faith in Jesus Christ.

He was emotional — in his usual way at such points in his monologues — emphasising that the only way anyone can defeat the powers of darkness is through faith in Jesus Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Jones is not the biggest churchgoer and, perhaps rightly, finds that Satan lurks in most churches. So he stays away. That said, he does know his Bible and gave an interesting, modern update on what King David faced by way of sin and temptation. He pointed out that when David repented, God filled him with abundant grace and great courage.

Jones said we could learn from King David’s experience; the devil is the one who gets people to doubt whether God will forgive them. Jones said to ignore those doubts. They come from Satan. God forgives.

Therefore, pray regularly and ask for faith.

Jones would have made an excellent preacher. I wish we had thousands of clergymen like him. He spoke the truth. He spoke from the heart. He pulled no punches on explaining the darkness in world today. He explained that Jesus Christ — the Light of the World — is our only means of hope and salvation.

What people can do

Jones said that good people must speak up and tell unworldly people about the dark forces in our society.

He said to first believe in Christ, because without Him we can accomplish nothing. From that, we were to infer that secular humanism will not get the job done.

God-fearing people should start blogs, websites and/or video channels. We all have our own special talents that, with divine grace, we can use to reveal the vagaries of the Left, the globalists and the Deep State.

We must not remain silent. We must speak out. We must resist.

Above, all, if we want to defeat evil, we must be faithful Christians.

UP2 Minutes into Tuck and Chill and he gives you this lookTucker Carlson might not yet be a household name, but it could be soon.

His Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight began just a little over a month ago on November 14, 2016.

(Photo credit: The_Donald)

Seasoned viewers of American cable news channels will have seen him on CNN between 2000 and 2005 in the days when he sported a bow tie. He was CNN’s youngest anchor when they hired him. He co-hosted The Spin Room and later Crossfire. He also hosted a current affairs show on PBS during this time, Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered.

In 2004, Carlson and The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart got into an intense discussion on Crossfire, which some viewers might remember. Stewart stayed on the air afterwards to talk about the issues raised. In January 2005, CNN decided not to renew Carlson’s contract, although he maintains he had already resigned:

I resigned from Crossfire in April, many months before Jon Stewart came on our show, because I didn’t like the partisanship, and I thought in some ways it was kind of a pointless conversation … each side coming out, you know, ‘Here’s my argument’, and no one listening to anyone else. [CNN] was a frustrating place to work.”[10]

In June 2005, Carlson moved to MSNBC where he hosted Tucker in the evenings. He also did other broadcasts and investigative reports. However, the channel’s shows became more oriented to the left-wing and, in 2008, Carlson found his programme cancelled because of low ratings. He explained:

they didn’t have a role for me.

Carlson began working for Fox News in 2009 as a contributor, guest panellist and substitute presenter on several shows. He joined the Fox & Friends team in 2013 then left when he got his own show.

In January 2010, with the help of a longtime friend Neil Patel, Carlson co-founded The Daily Caller, a reputable and popular news site. He resigned as editor-in chief in November, although he will retain his ownership stake of the site. He said:

It was really hard. Not because I’m a great manager, I’m a terrible manager. But I loved it and I loved the guys.

Tucker Carlson Tonight airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET. All the segments can be found on YouTube.

Carlson is quickly developing a welcome reputation for destroying left-wing arguments coherently. He is firm but polite. When the guests’ arguments are particularly off-the-wall, he pulls a face. In fact, you can even buy a tee shirt and enjoy his facial expression whenever you like.

The_Donald‘s contributors, not the world’s biggest television viewers, have this to say:

You see in his eyes that’s he trying to go through the mental gymnastics his guest is and realizing just how it doesn’t compute.

I’m getting addicted to his nightly thrashings of idiots. Never raises his voices, uses their own words and idiocy against them. Has become true must-see tv in our house.

His show comes on right around the time I’m cooking and eating dinner. I have never recorded a news show before because it seems silly, but I record Tucker every night now!

I just really enjoy the way he encourages them to go full moron on national tv.

Oh man… I literally sit down to start watching and the first guest is just getting blown out the water to the point where I don’t even know if I can watch without cringing. Tucker does more in 2 minutes than whole news outlets do all day. Every show is bananas and so direct! Love it

There is more love from The_Donald here and here. There is also a Reddit page devoted to him. This is great because most of the contributors to both subReddits are twenty-somethings and political independents who supported Donald Trump.

In this video of December 8, California Congressman Adam Schiff (D) accuses Tucker of ‘carrying water for the Kremlin’:

On December 1, he had a go at Newsweek:

And, the following day, the New York Times:

From observing his interviewing style and reading his Wikipedia entry, until recently, I have been working on the assumption that he is High WASP.

After all, he went to a top Episcopal school in New England, St George’s, just outside of swank Newport, Rhode Island. The school is one of five collectively referred to as St Grottlesex (emphases in the original):

St. Mark’s, St. Paul’s, and St. George’s, then part of Groton, an extra t, and then ended with Middlesex.

Carlson went on to study history at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. It was founded by an Episcopal bishop in 1824 and was originally called Washington College. It was renamed Trinity in 1845.

I once worked for a High WASP who attended Groton and Trinity. (Groton rhymes with ‘rotten’, by the way. It’s important to know how to pronounce it if you ever find yourself in this milieu.) I give him top marks overall. So, I was impressed to see that Carlson went to St George’s and Trinity, which gives me further insight as to what sort of man he must be. It is not unusual for Trinity men to wear bow ties. It’s a High WASP look.

Then I looked up his father’s Wikipedia entry and discovered that the Carlson family aren’t High WASP at all. His dad’s life story is even more interesting.

Richard Warner “Dick” Carlson might be best known for heading Voice of America, which broadcasts overseas, during the last six years of the Cold War. During that time, he was also the head of Radio Marti which broadcast to Cuba and was also involved with other government-funded information entities designed to build goodwill between the United States and foreign countries.

Dick’s origins are fascinating. He was born in Boston in 1941 and his name was Richard Boynton. His mother was a high school student and his father, Richard Boynton, was in college at the time. Boynton committed suicide in Dick’s infancy. His mother, Dorothy Anderson, gave him to the Home for Little Wanderers, an orphanage in Boston.

In 1943, Mr and Mrs W E Carlson of nearby Norwood adopted the child. They had no children of their own. Mr Carlson managed North America’s largest and oldest tannery, Winslow Brothers & Smith in Norwood. Mr Carlson died in 1953 and 12-year-old Dick went to work to help provide for his mother.

Dick never graduated from high school. He joined the military when he was 17 and served as a medic with the third Battalion, Sixth Marine regiment at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and with the USMC Escape & Evasion School at Camp Geiger, N.C. He later graduated from the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Bainbridge, Maryland. Afterwards, he earned a NROTC scholarship to the University of Mississippi.

After being honourably discharged from the Naval Reserves, he worked for one summer as a patrol officer in the family resort town of Ocean City, Maryland. He returned to Mississippi that autumn to continue his studies but left in October 1962 when a series of violent riots occurred. This was the time of Civil Rights unrest and desegregation. Ole Miss, as the university is known, was attempting to admit its first black student, and segregationists went mad.

Carlson went to California to break into journalism. Although he started as a copy boy at the Los Angeles Times, he managed to get odd jobs which would propel his career: working for top entertainment columnist Louella Parsons and for United Press International’s Foreign Film Bureau.

UPI hired him as a full-time general assignment reporter in 1963, working from their bureau in San Francisco. He was promoted to night bureau chief by the end of the year.

He went on to write for Time and Look magazines and joined ABC News as a correspondent, on assignment in San Francisco and Los Angeles. By then, the late 1960s, riots were breaking out around the nation. Dick covered the main ones in California and was even injured at the San Francisco State College Riots.

Dick married an Omaha girl, Patricia Caroline Swanson. In 1969, she gave birth to Tucker McNear Carlson in San Francisco. (The couple have two other children.)

Dick won many awards for his journalism between 1967 and 1997. In the early 1990s, he worked for George Herbert Walker Bush’s administration. He was the Ambassador to the Seychelles, the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (parent company of PBS and NPR). He has also worked in counter-terrorism.

Today, he and his wife live in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Dick writes a weekly newspaper column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Charleston Mercury.

By now, some will be wondering more about Tucker’s Episcopalianism. He did bring up an analogy involving a hypothetical Episcopal priest in a recent show. His Wikipedia page also states that he is still an Episcopalian.

In 2015, he took exception to Obama’s claim that religion causes wars:

“So we’re responsible for the Crusades a thousand years ago?” Carlson complained. “Who’s ‘us’ anyway? And by the way, who ended slavery and Jim Crow? Christians. The Rev. Martin Luther King. Christians.”

“Christianity is the reason we don’t have slavery in the world today,” he added. “I mean, talk about ahistorical.”

“What’s so striking though is his mention of the Crusades as a way to make the point, ‘Before you judge ISIS, keep in mind that that Christians did it too,'” Carlson asserted. “The Crusades is a fixation among jihadis. There’s not a press release from ISIS or from al Qaeda that doesn’t call us Crusaders.”

Democrat-aligned Media Matters took Carlson to task for suggesting that ‘mainstream religious faith’ refers to Christianity when most of the world’s population is, apparently, Buddhist. The exchange below concerns Tiger Woods, who converted to Buddhism in 2010 during a rough patch:

Jacksonville, FL: When did Brit Hume go crazy? Tiger Woods should embrace Christianity and we will forgive him?

You say this on the air?

Tucker Carlson: Crazy? No. John Wayne Gacy was crazy. Judy Garland and Ezra Pound were crazy. Recommending that someone in distress adopt a mainstream religious faith is pretty conventional advice.

Carlson was probably thinking of Westerners, Americans in particular, not people worldwide.

In any event, it’s great that he is willing to defend and speak out on behalf of the Church.

I nearly forgot to mention that Carlson is married and a father of four. Follow him on Twitter.

UPDATE — APRIL 2017: Carlson has removed his Episcopalian affiliation from his Wikipedia page. However, in an April 10, 2017 article, The New Yorker states that he is still an Episcopalian, one who ‘abhors’ the left-wing clergy running the denomination. Good man. During their courtship, his future wife persuaded him to take Christianity seriously.

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 26:30-35

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

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The Last Supper had just ended (verse 30).

Jesus had sent Judas away long before then and commemorated Passover with the remaining eleven apostles in instituting the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Passover supper concluded with a hymn, a sung Psalm. John MacArthur tells us:

After the main meal of the lamb, the bitter herbs, and the sauce, the unleavened bread, they would take a cup, then they would sing the hallēl, which would be the latter part of the hallēl, Psalm 115 to 118.  Then they would take the fourth and final cup, and then they would sing the final song, which was Psalm 136, called the great hallēl.  And every verse in Psalm 136 ends with the same line, “For His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever” – every one of them.  So they would have sung that. 

Hallēl means ‘to praise’. Hallelujah is is the plural imperative of hallēl.

MacArthur describes the walk Jesus and the apostles took to the Mount of Olives. We often think they were alone in a quiet Jerusalem. However, as it was Passover, the streets were teeming with faithful Jews (emphases mine):

… the leaving was very significant.  It was nearly midnight.  They go out of this upper room, down the stairs, out into the street, and the city is alive as if it was midday.  It is alive because it is Passover time.  It is the time of the feast of unleavened bread, and there’s activity everywhere and people are hurrying around.  Some are in the midst of eating their Passover meal.  Remember, the Galileans and the Pharisees ate it late Thursday night.  Some are still eating it, so the lamps are burning in the houses.  Some are getting ready to have it the next day, the Judeans and the Sadducees, and so, they’re getting the preparations ready.

The temple gates will be thrown open at midnight for the special festival.  And so people are surging toward the temple wanting to get in that place.  Visitors are everywhere; people negotiating for a place to have the Passover the next day, who had come from out of town, animals being collected and carried all around to be sacrificed the next day.  It’s alive, even though it’s night, and so they’re pushing their way, no doubt, through this kind of crowd at night, down the eastern slope of the temple mount.  They’ve crossed the Kidron valley, where the little brook is running as full as it ever runs because of winter rain, and it’s even more full because of the blood of all the thousands of animals that have been slain, and the blood runs out the back of the temple, down the slope, into the stream to be carried away.  And so the disciples, eleven of them now, and Jesus cross that in the dark, and they ascend the Mount of Olives, headed for a very familiar place that they have gone to many times called the Garden of Gethsemane, which means “olive press;” Mount of Olives, many olive trees, and a place called olive press.

People in the city didn’t have gardens in the city.  There was no place for that.  They had gardens out on the slopes around the city, and they would cultivate those, and those would be the gardens that belonged to the people that lived in the city.  And Jesus went to a familiar place, and they were headed for that place, but it must have been up the slope a ways, and as they went up they needed to stop and rest – maybe in a similar place that they had stopped the night before when He gave them the great Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25 on His Second Coming. 

Jesus had something important to tell the apostles. He told them they would ‘all fall away’ because of Him that night (verse 31). Some older translations, such as the Bible Matthew Henry used, say ‘shall be offended’. In modern English, the connotation is ‘to desert’.

To illustrate His point, He cited Zechariah 13:7. I’m going to highlight that below and give you subsequent verses to better put it into context:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the Lord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
    I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
    and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
    and refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

MacArthur explains Zechariah in the prophet’s context then in Jesus’s. Note that MacArthur is using another version of the Bible, but the words will make sense in the same way:

In Zechariah 13, Zechariah is talking about some false prophets who will be wounded in their idol houses.  He’s talking about false prophets that God is going to come and wound in their idol houses.  In other words, God is going to judge false prophets.  And the prophet is speaking against those false prophets, who are worthy only of the judgment of God.  And then he comes right behind that in verse 7 and says, “I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”  And it might seem at first that he’s referring here to a false shepherd, that God is going to come down and smite a false shepherd – makes sense – and scatter all of the followers of that false shepherd.  And we might think that, except for the clear interpretation of Christ, who says, “The smiting is Me, and the flock is you.”  And so the smitten shepherd of Zechariah 13:7 has to be the Messiah, and the scattered flock has to be His people.  And if you understand that, you understand the meaning of Zechariah 13:7, and it makes sense out of that passage, especially as you look a little closer to it.

Now, look at Zechariah 13:7 for just a moment, and I’ll show you some interesting things.  It says, “Awake, o sword,” and this is God, Jehovah God speaking, “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  Now, that tells you right away that it’s not a false prophet.  God is not slaying a false prophet whom He calls “My shepherd,” God’s personal representative.  God says, “My sword will slay My shepherd” – “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  And then this most interesting phrase, “And against the man,” and he uses a Hebrew word here that is not the normal word, not the generic word, but means “mighty man” or “man of great strength.”  So first of all, the shepherd to be slain is called “the shepherd of God, My shepherd, a mighty shepherd.”  And then it says, “Who is My fellow.”  Literally, “the mighty man of My union,” or “the mighty man equal to Me.”  Marvelous statement, isn’t it?  Who is equal to God?  Christ.  Who was God’s shepherd?  Christ.  Who is the mighty shepherd?  Christ.

So clearly, Zechariah is turning a corner from the false, saying, “Yes, God will wound the false shepherd in the house of his idol, but God will also wound the true shepherd, and His sheep will be scattered as well.”  And the end of the verse, “And I’ll turn My hand on the little ones,” there will be a remnant – there will be a remnant.  What Zechariah was saying is the day is coming when God is going to smite His own shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sheep are going to be scattered.  Now, the sheep I believe Zechariah has in mind is the nation Israel.  Israel went into chaos after the death of their Messiah.  Seventy A.D., the city was destroyed, the temple and everything else, and they’re still in the same chaos resulting from the rejection of Messiah.  But the disciples being scattered were sort of the first phase of the chaos that hit the nation Israel.  So Zechariah sees God smiting the shepherd, the nation disintegrating, and the first phase of it the Lord applies to this group of His own disciples, who will be scattered.

Jesus then said that when He was raised, He would go before the apostles into Galilee (verse 32). He was not only telling them what would happen but also making sure they were not filled with despair. Matthew Henry explains the verse in light of Zechariah:

Though you will forsake me, I will not forsake you though you fall, I will take care you shall not fall finally: we shall have a meeting again in Galilee, I will go before you, as the shepherd before the sheep.” Some make the last words of that prophecy (Zechariah 13:7), a promise equivalent to this here and I will bring my hand again to the little ones. There is no bringing them back but by bringing his hand to them. Note, The captain of our salvation knows how to rally his troops, when, through their cowardice, they have been put into disorder.

Then Peter piped up with another grand pronouncement of his loyalty and fidelity (verse 33). He said his faith was so much deeper than everyone else’s that night. They might fall away but he would remain steadfast until the end.

But Jesus knew what was going to happen, and it was not as Peter imagined. Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny knowing Him three times (verse 34).

If you’re familiar with cockerels, they start crowing very early, between midnight and three in the morning, known to the ancient Jews as the rooster crow. Therefore, Peter’s denials would come in relatively quick succession that night.

Peter, however, was adamant in his loyalty. The other apostles also pledged their fidelity (verse 35).

The rest of the chapter — indeed, the rest of Matthew’s Gospel — is in the three-year Lectionary.

However, let’s remind ourselves of how events unfolded.

Jesus asked Peter, James and John to wait for Him while He went off alone to pray (verse 36):

39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

What unspeakably deep sorrow He must have experienced at that moment.

Yet, when He returned, Peter, James and John were asleep:

40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?

Jesus’s next words were — and continue to be — pivotal:

41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The flesh is always weak. That has been an enduring fact starting with Original Sin.

Satan is always on hand to prey on our weakness. He doesn’t sleep. This is why we need to be alert, on guard against temptation.

Jesus went off to pray a second time. Even after his admonition about being watchful:

43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

He went off a third time to pray. When He returned, the apostles were asleep.

Jesus told them to rest later (verse 45):

46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

This should have been enough to penetrate and concentrate their minds, but it wasn’t.

Jesus had not finished speaking when a crowd of high priests and scribes armed with swords and clubs appeared with Judas (verse 47):

48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”[f] Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

‘One of those’ with Jesus — Peter, as John 18:10 identifies him — drew his sword, but Jesus told him to put it away:

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

He said He does not need earthly defence; He has His Father in heaven and legions of angels (verse 53).

Matthew 26 ends with Peter’s three denials in the early hours of Good Friday morning:

Peter Denies Jesus

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Parallel verses for today’s reading are found in Mark 14:26-31.

Parallel verses for Matthew 26:34 are found in Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34 and John 13:38. Note that the links I have supplied are all from my Forbidden Bible Verses series. This means they do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. More’s the pity, because they teach us a valuable lesson as Christians.

It is hard not to be suspicious of churchgoers who boast of their faith. A few have commented on this site. They make themselves sound better than everyone else, just as Peter attempted to elevate himself above the other apostles. Matthew Henry has this observation:

Note, It argues a great degree of self-conceit and self-confidence, to think ourselves either safe from the temptations, or free from the corruptions, that are common to men. We should rather say, If it be possible that others may be offended, there is danger that I may be so. But it is common for those who think too well of themselves, easily to admit suspicions of others. See Galatians 6:1.

Peter was so puffed up with himself because he was in his comfort zone. No doubt boastful churchgoers are also in their own bubble. They live in a safe place. They have a roof over their heads. They feel no outside threat. They have food, family and friends. They have a church and a congregation they love. Their needs are met, which gives them a prideful, false confidence about their faith. Henry warns us:

Note, 1. There is a proneness in good men to be over-confident of their own strength and stability. We are ready to think ourselves able to grapple with the strongest temptations, to go through the hardest and most hazardous services, and to bear the greatest afflictions for Christ but it is because we do not know ourselves. 2. Those often fall soonest and foulest that are most confident of themselves. Those are least safe that are most secure. Satan is most active to seduce such they are most off their guard, and God leaves them to themselves, to humble them. See 1 Corinthians 10:12.

We need to be careful in Christian witness when we talk about ourselves!

Even John MacArthur grapples with human weakness, so we should all pay attention to what he says on the matter:

As much as we would like to think of ourselves as strong Christians, the fact of the matter is that, in and of ourselves, we are weak.  We would like to think that we could never be caught in a situation where we would deny the Lord, where we would deny His Word, where we would be ashamed to name His name or to be associated with Him.  But the truth of the matter is from time to time, we do just exactly that.  We are caught in an environment of unrighteousness, and we say nothing.  There is a time to speak of Christ, and we do not speak.  There is a time when someone would identify us as a Christian, and we shun such an identification for fear of social pressure or social ostracization.  There are times when we should be bold for the cause of Christ, and we are anything but bold.

I remember when I was young I used to think about how it would be when in the future I went to serve the Lord, and should He call me to a very difficult place, I was faced with death or denial of Christ.  I had read missionary stories about those people who affirmed their faith in Christ all the way to death, and I wondered whether I would do that, and I wanted so desperately to believe that I would.  I really wanted to be able to say, “I’d do that – I’d name Christ right down the wire, and if they were going to burn me at the stake, I’d keep naming the name of Christ.”  I wanted so much to be able to say that about myself, but I really had a lot of doubts.  And what gives me the doubts, and did then and still does, is that there are times when I don’t even say what I ought to say in a situation far less intimidating than death.  There are times when we just retreat from the identification with Christ that we should have.  There are times when as disciples, we desert, we go AWOL, we defect for shame’s sake.  We’d rather not be identified with Jesus Christ.  We just don’t want to step out and stand firm

How true.

America is the last bastion of Christianity, but the number of agnostics and atheists there is growing. It might become taboo one day to say one is a Christian, especially if one lives in a big city. It can affect the number of friends one has and even one’s employment.

There is a price to pay for Christianity, even when one lives in the West. I know. I have experienced it in the UK more often than not.

In closing, this is my final post on the Gospel of Matthew.

Let us recall how it ends. The Great Commission — which holds true for us — is Jesus’s command to the disciples after the Resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20). Note that He preceded them to Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17) as He said after the Last Supper (Matthew 26:32):

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

May God grant us His heavenly grace and may the Holy Spirit give us the fortitude to witness for the Gospel, through Jesus Christ our Lord, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

————————————————————————

Next week, I will begin a study of the Book of Acts. There we will see what happened to Peter and Paul in their respective ministries.

Next time: Acts 2:12-13

Bible and crossThe 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 21:44-46

44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”[e]

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

——————————————————————————————–

Today’s verses follow on from last week’s reading wherein the chief priests and the elders challenge Jesus’s authority.

After that challenge, Jesus related two parables to them. The first was the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32). A father asked his two sons to work in the family vineyard. One initially declined, but decided to obey his father. The second son told his father he would work but did not. Jesus asked the religious leaders which son did the father’s will. All said that the first son did. Then, alluding again to John the Baptist’s exhortation to baptism and repentance, Jesus said that the tax collectors and prostitutes who took John’s call seriously would enter the kingdom of God before they would.

The second story was the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-44). The owner of an estate with a vineyard leased the winepress to his tenants and left the country for a period of time. Before he returned, he sent word via his servants that the tenants were to prepare the fruit. The tenants killed or stoned one after another. They even killed the man’s son — taking him off the property to do so, just as Jesus was taken out of the gates of Jerusalem for His Crucifixion (Hebrews 13:12-13).

Jesus cited Psalm 118:22-23:

22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.[a]
23 This is the Lord‘s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.

He warned the religious leaders once again, delivering the same lesson as in the Parable of the Two Sons.

He passed judgement on them, saying that the Gentiles would inherit the kingdom of God instead:

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”[e]

John MacArthur explains:

Jesus says to the leaders of Israel, “You have lost the right to be in the place of blessing.” God turned from Israel.

Like they said, let’s seize that son and kill him, He is saying whoever tries to seize the Lord Jesus Christ to do harm to Him shall be broken into pieces. You do that to God’s Son and that’s what God will do to you. He will, in the words of the Jews who responded, He will miserably destroy those wicked men who seized His Son. You fall upon the Lord Jesus Christ to do evil to Him, to do harm to Him and you’ll be broken to bits. And then in the final judgment when He falls on you, you’ll be crushed to powder. That’s what it says. Oh my…strong words, strong words.

MacArthur discusses the phrase in verse 44, ‘broken in pieces’:

The Greek verb “grind him to powder” couldn’t be translated better than that. That’s the best translation of it. It’s not simply a crushing, but a scattering into nothingness. You do harm to Christ, you seize Christ and kill Him and you’ll be broken. And when He comes in judgment, He will crush. A parallel is Daniel 2:34 and 35 where it shows the empires of the world in that image, you remember? And the stone cut out without hands who is Christ smashes that thing. Christ will come as a crushing stone, a judge. And He will judge in a pulverizing eternal judgment those who have rejected Him.

So, the illustration, conclusion, given out of their own mouth. Jesus gives the explanation. And taking their own words that such people ought to be judged and replaced, He says that’s what you’ve done to Jesus Christ, you too will be judged and replaced in the sphere of blessing.

These men knew Jesus was talking about them in those two parables (verse 45). Yet — and yet — they feared the crowds more than He (verse 46). Was the only thing holding them back from arresting Him then and there the wrath of God? No, it was the wrath of … the crowds.

In other words, they feared men more than God. That sums up their whole outlook. They craved the approval and awe of men in everything they did. Yet, they posed as men of God, His representatives on earth.

Their hypocrisy was astonishing.

MacArthur compared them with Herod:

Herod Antipas was afraid to take John and kill him because the people thought he was a prophet. And now they’re cowards, they don’t want to touch Jesus because the people think He’s a prophet and they’re afraid. That’s the only thing that holds them back. They are so lost…so lost. The Sanhedrin wants Jesus dead but they’re afraid. They’ve just heard the truth about themselves, they could care less. They know He’s the Son of God, they don’t care about that either. Oh my, what unbelievable unbelief, but it is characteristic of all unbelievers who reject against the truth. So sad.

MacArthur reminds us that the Jews also rejected the prophets of the Old Testament:

They took Jeremiah and threw him into a pit and tradition says ultimately he was stoned. They rejected Ezekiel. Amos had to run for his life. Zechariah was rejected and stoned. Micah was smashed in the face, 1 Kings 22:24 says, by the people who would not hear the message that he gave. And this is the norm, this is how they treated the prophets, the kings and the high priests and the leaders of the people, the religious people. This is how they treated God’s prophets.

In a few weeks’ time, we will be coming to Matthew 23:31, which is on the same theme. So is Matthew 23:34, which is in the three-year Lectionary and read on the feast day of the martyr St Stephen. MacArthur summarises the overall message:

This is the norm. They have rejected the prophets. They rejected the son and they’ll continue to reject, He says. And they did.

This is another warning that God punishes conscious, willful unbelief. Lack of belief in His Son Jesus Christ also brings divine condemnation. This is because He sent Jesus as our Mediator and Advocate with Him.

Equally important in this second half of Matthew 21 is further proof that Jesus gives of His deity. MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

I believe this is one of the most missed and yet most clear claims to deity that our Lord ever gave. He says here God sent you prophets and then God sent a son. And Mark 12:6, an only son. And so Christ distinguishes Himself as the Son of God, sent from God as different than the prophets. He’s not a servant like their servants, he’s a son. It is a claim to deity. And in the parable, this is the heir, to him belongs the inheritance, is the implication. This is the son. It is a remarkable claim by Jesus to be the Son of God, a claim for which they wanted Him dead. There’s no way around it. He claimed to be the only Son of God, not a prophet like other prophets, not even the best of the prophets. Nothing less will do than that He is the incarnate Son of God. He is either that or He is a false prophet and a liar …

Do you realize that Jesus is here telling them to their face that He knows they’ll kill Him? That’s right. There’s no surprise to Him. He’s not a victim. He said, “I am not having My life taken from Me,” in John’s gospel, “I lay it down of Myself.”

That Jesus is not a victim is important to remember, especially on Good Friday. We should make sure that young people and others learning about the faith understand and remember that.

Next time: Matthew 22:23-33

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 21:23-27

The Authority of Jesus Challenged

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

———————————————————————————————-

We are in the events of Holy Week, which recall Jesus’s final Passover on earth.

After Jesus entered Jerusalem — the Triumphal Entry — He cleansed the temple then healed the blind and the lame. He went to Bethany that night and the following day, hungry and finding that a leafy fig tree had no fruit, He cursed it, a portent for the destruction of the temple and a judgement on the Jewish people.

Because it was Passover week, the temple was teeming with faithful Jews. The temple was not just a place of worship but a vast complex of a courtyard and courts, each of which served a particular purpose. Some courts, like the Court of Women, were for every Jew. The rest had increasingly more restricted access up to the Holy of Holies, where only a few designated priests were permitted.

John MacArthur says:

That temple had a tremendous courtyard…huge courtyard. And surrounding it were these high walls and pillars. And in among those pillars were porches and colonnades and porticos and people would mill all about, especially at Passover, the place would be filled with people and especially having been cleansed. That would invite even more people. And then when Jesus came who had cleansed it, no doubt it was just teeming with people.

Jesus spent His final days teaching at the temple, as He did on this particular day (verse 23).

Matthew Henry points out:

Now that Christ taught in the temple, that scripture was fulfilled (Isaiah 2:3), Let us go up to the house of the Lord, and he will teach us his ways. The priests of old often taught there the good knowledge of the Lord but they never had such a teacher as this.

The parallel versions of this account are found in Mark 11:27-33, about which I wrote in 2012, and Luke 20:1-8, discussed in 2014.

Luke 20:1 tells us He:

was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel

when the Jewish religious authorities approached Him asking him by whose ‘authority’ He ‘was doing these things’ (Matthew 21:23). They implied that He did not receive any authority — permission and power — via ordination from the Sanhedrin.

Jesus responded in rabbinical style, asking them a question (verse 24). By whose authority did John the Baptist baptise (verse 25)? Man’s authority or God’s?

He was confronting a big group of men. The temple had all sorts of priests and elders, many of whom were charged with specific functions, even down to overseeing the bakery for the showbread and the salt used in various ceremonies. MacArthur tells us:

Now, you’ve got to understand who this gang is. This is a big group. First of all, Matthew says the chief priests and the elders, and those are very general terms to engulf a whole group of people. The chief priests would include all the priests. That would mean the high priests, perhaps Caiaphas and Annas who was behind the scenes. That would include the captain of the temple who was second in command, he was in charge of all the worship, he was able to arrest people who did violate the temple rules, as we find in Acts 5 when he arrested the Apostles. The captain of the temple was an office from which the high priest was elected. If the high priest was ill on the Day of Atonement or couldn’t serve, then the captain of the temple was elevated to that role. So it was like being vice-president.

And then under him came the priests of the weekly course of which there were twenty-four of those who offered sacrifice and carried out ceremony. And then there were the priests of the daily course and there were 156 of those. And then there were ordinary…what was called overseer priests who had charge of the keys and the doors and the gates and little areas of administrative responsibility. And then there were the treasurer types who cared for the money, collected the money. And history tells us that these last two categories of overseers and treasurers could be divided into all kinds of people …

And then you probably had other priests. And then you had the non-priests, the rabbis and the scribes. And there’s a large group of guys involved in wanting to bring Jesus’ ministry to a fast stop.

Returning to Jesus’s question about John the Baptist, the hierarchy confronting Him knew they were in a difficult position. The Jewish faithful — the people — knew that John the Baptist was a prophet. Many went to receive his baptism in advance of the Messiah. Gentiles, including some Romans, also received it. Therefore, if the chief priests and elders answered that John had heavenly authority, Jesus would ask (verse 25):

Why then did you not believe him?

Neither could they say that John’s authority came from man, because the faithful recognised him as a prophet. Just as the people feared these men, so they, in turn, feared them (verse 26). They did not want a mob uprising that would threaten their power structure.

These men knew the truth. For their own worldly purposes, however, they refused to acknowledge it. MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

These guys were trained at ignoring facts. They had trained themselves at that. It didn’t matter what the evidence was, they could ignore it. It didn’t matter what Jesus said, it didn’t matter what He did, didn’t matter how powerful His miracles were, how utterly inexplicable they were on a human basis, how utterly unanswerable was His teaching, they still refused to believe. You remember in John 5, He heals the man at the pool of Bethsaida and He’s all finished healing the guy and it says, “Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus and sought to slay Him.” They wanted Him dead instead of saying He has the power of God, He can heal, He must be the Messiah John spoke of, they wanted Him dead.

John chapter 9, they met a blind man, Jesus made the blind man see. And they said to him, “Well, who is He and where is He from?” And the blind man says, “It’s a strange thing that you don’t know who He is or where He came from and He made me see.” When unbelief investigates the truth, it comes up with the wrong answer, see, because it’s already predisposed to ignore the facts. Typical of people who come to look at the gospel message and look at the virtue of Jesus Christ already having convinced themselves that their way is right and the way of God is wrong and no matter how much evidence you give them, they’ll still reject because that’s their predisposition.

To save their own earthly prestige, they told Jesus that they did not know the source of John the Baptist’s authority (verse 27). Henry tells us:

they knew that John’s baptism was of God. Note, There are many who are more afraid of the shame of lying than of the sin, and therefore scruple not to speak that which they know to be false concerning their own thoughts and apprehensions, their affections and intentions, or their remembering or forgetting of things, because in those things they know nobody can disprove them.

Jesus ended the confrontation by saying that He would not reveal by whose authority He did what He was doing. When He said that, He was rejecting them completely. His condemnations continue through Matthew 23 and in a few subsequent verses. MacArthur says:

Now it was their duty to be the acute observers of religious matters. It was their duty to know. And they ignored all the evidence because they would not be put in a position where they would admit Jesus Christ to be the Messiah. Oh, the hardness of their hearts.

And so He says, verse 27, “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” I’m not answering your question either. “Why cast pearls before swine?” They rejected the light so He turned it off, I have nothing more to say to you, nothing more. And He didn’t, He really didn’t. He said to them in 23:33, “You serpents, you generation of snakes, how can you escape the damnation of hell?” In verse 38 He says, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate…desolate.” I mean, it was over, He turned off the lights. And when He was confronted before Caiaphas in Matthew 26:63 it says, “And Jesus held His peace.” Never said a word. He had nothing to say. And when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, Matthew 27:12, “He answered nothing.” Nothing.

O, what a fearful moment. They had so long rejected that He rejected them. Genesis 6:3, God said, “My Spirit will not always strive with man.” In Hosea 4:17 God said, “Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.” In Isaiah 63:10 God says, “This people has so long rebelled against Me and vexed My Holy Spirit that I have now determined to fight against them.” That’s where they are, fearful thing.

Unbelievers, deniers and mockers would do well to take note. They still have time to repent with a contrite heart.

Next week’s verses continue the same theme.

Next time: Matthew 21:44-46

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 21:18-22

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

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Last week’s reading — Matthew 21:14-17 — ended with Jesus leaving bustling Jerusalem during His last Passover and retreating to the peace and quiet of nearby Bethany.

John MacArthur says that He stayed with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. A few days before, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The people spread the news quickly, which accounts for the rejoicing crowds who greeted Him on His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

When Jesus reached the temple He was filled with righteous anger as He cleansed it of greedy moneychangers and sacrifice swindlers. He then restored it to His Father’s house by healing the blind and the lame (Matthew 21:14-17).

In this continuing account, He returned to Jerusalem from Bethany with His disciples. He was hungry (verse 18). Even if Martha and Mary had given Him breakfast, He knew He was facing death by the end of the week, so it was a monumentally difficult time which was probably taking a lot out of Him.

He went up to a fig tree by the roadside in the hope that it would have fruit, something He could eat (verse 19). As it had only leaves, He cursed it and, instantly it died. A fig tree bears fruit before it has leaves, so one with leaves would imply it was still bearing fruit.

This is more than an account of Jesus’s hunger. This is an allegory for the curse to come to the Jews for their unbelief and hard hearts. Remember that the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. No replacement was ever built.

The fig tree with leaves and no fruit symbolises the Jewish people of His day. The hierarchy were hypocrites, with one set of rules for themselves and an onerous one for ordinary Jews. The religious leaders felt that Jesus threatened their prestige and power. Instead of seeing Him as their long-awaited Messiah, foretold in so many places in Scripture, they plotted to kill Him. They looked religious — just as the fig tree looked fruitful, covered in leaves as it was. However, just as the leaders were devoid of faith and dead in sin, so the fig tree was devoid of fruit. Under the principles of divine judgement, both would have to go.

The ordinary people were no better. How many thousands followed Him to be amazed? How many followed Him and came to believe He was their Saviour? Very few.

Matthew Henry explains this illustration of divine judgement (emphases mine):

all he did was for the benefit and comfort of his friends, none for the terror or punishment of his enemies but now, at last, to show that all judgment is committed to him, and that he is able not only to save, but to destroy, he would give a specimen of the power of his wrath and curse yet this not on any man, woman, or child, because the great day of his wrath is not yet come, but on an inanimate tree that is set forth for an example

The destruction of the temple, which came from the hands of the Romans, demonstrated divine lasting judgement:

Never any good came from them (except the particular persons among them that believe), after they rejected Christ[;] they became worse and worse blindness and hardness happened to them, and grew upon them, till they were unchurched, unpeopled, and undone, and their place and nation rooted up their beauty was defaced, their privileges and ornaments, their temple, and priesthood, and sacrifices, and festivals, and all the glories of their church and state, fell like leaves in autumn. How soon did their fig-tree wither away, after they said, His blood be on us, and our children! And the Lord was righteous in it.

MacArthur says this extended even unto fig trees, a biblical symbol of blessing:

So, the presence of fig trees were the mark of the prosperity of the land. The absence of fig trees, the mark of the judgment of the land. And today there aren’t surely nearly the fig trees there were once. They’ve had to be replanted, you know, that land has been denuded and stripped naked so many, many times that they’re having a reforestation project now to put it back to what it used to be. But it was made naked by so many different conquerors who came in and built all their war machines out of the wood. They stripped the woods bare. And then in one period of Israel’s history, they made a law that every man was taxed according to the number of trees he had on his land. So everybody went out and cut down all their trees. But the fig trees are coming back to the land. Their absence now may be a mark of God’s judgment on that prosperity.

Of course, this extends to political survival and national security:

And they’re in a constant state of vigilance. Life for them is reduced to the basic things, survival and defense.

They’re under a curse…the curse that our Lord pronounced upon them, the curse that Isaiah pronounced upon them, the curse that’s pronounced upon them by God in Deuteronomy, it’s the same thing. You disobey Me, you are under judgment. And they’re under that.

MacArthur has an interesting analysis:

when He comes, just after He’s been inaugurated king, He does two things immediately. First, cleanse the temple; second, curse the tree, and they are monumentally significant things. And if you don’t understand them, you won’t understand why they wanted Him dead.

The first thing, cleansing the temple, was a denunciation of their religion. It was a denunciation of their worship. The second thing, cursing the tree … was a denunciation of them as a nation. So instead of overthrowing their enemies, in a sense He denounces them. And it’s inconceivable to them that their own Messiah could come and condemn them. And that is why they put Him to death. They would have nothing to do with Him and they said it, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” This isn’t our kind of king. He wasn’t like other kings …

So, what you see here are two acts of kingly authority: the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the tree. He has the scepter and He wields it in these ways.

The next series of verses show that the three-year Lectionary editors and compilers made a serious oversight in excluding this passage for three reasons.

First, the disciples were astonished that a leafy tree could die instantly before their eyes (verse 20). Divine judgement is swift, immediate — and effective.

Secondly, Jesus issued a warning about doubt (verse 21) — the oh-so-popular sentiment in Christian circles these days, one which clergy so readily excuse:

if you have faith and do not doubt

Our Lord Himself told us not to doubt.

Faith without doubt can move mountains, a popular expression in the Jewish world that meant resolving the most insurmountable (!) of problems.

Thirdly, Jesus tells us that God answers prayer coming from faith (verse 22).

We read about the fruits of faith in the New Testament, in both the Gospels and the Epistles. MacArthur explains:

Fruit is ever and always the manifestation of true salvation. And what God is saying here is Israel is a nation with a pretense of religion that is unsaved, unredeemed, lost, cut off from God.

Again, it is essential not to confuse fruit with works. Obeying a checklist of laws will not bring salvation.

Fruit is a spontaneous product of real faith. It’s checking in on a sickly neighbour not because you think you ought to, but because you want to. It’s helping other people because you personally feel the urge to do so. Fruit is praying as if you were talking to a friend several times a day, whether asking for divine grace and assistance or giving thanks for blessings received.

MacArthur explains what Jesus means by faith:

Now let me tell you what He means by this. Faith is not faith in nothing. And faith is not faith in things that you think ought to be, and faith is not faith in you or your ideas or your dreams or your ambitions. Faith is placing your confidence in God. All right? So when it says if you have faith, it doesn’t mean nebulous…”Well, I believe in believing…well, I believe because I believe.” Faith is placing confidence in something you know that is true. It is believing in God as God has revealed Himself … 

Having faith is trusting in the revelation of God. In other words, if I know that something is consistent with God’s mind, if I know it is consistent with His will, if I know it is consistent with His purpose, if I know it is consistent with His desire, then I believe that and I can see that come to pass.

Faith should increase as we move through life, just as the tiny mustard seed produces an incredibly large bush the size of a tree:

The faith of a grain of mustard seed is this, a mustard seed’s a small seed that produces what? a very large bush. And the idea is if you have faith that starts small but gets larger and larger and larger and larger, you’re going to see God work in power. That’s what He’s saying. So you start out small and if it doesn’t happen, you don’t say, “Well, I give up…I asked the Lord to do it and He didn’t do it.” But your faith grows and strengthens and strengthens and strengthens …

In other words, the Lord is saying if you believe in God enough to be persistent in your prayers and to start out small and keep praying and keep praying and keep praying, let that faith strengthen and strengthen and strengthen, then God’s going to respond to that.

Too many of us give up on prayer, including some reading this post! MacArthur says:

some of you are not seeing God work in your life simply because there’s no persistence in your prayer. There’s no continuance in your prayer. There’s no strengthening. You don’t get an answer so you quit. And it’s not mustard seed, it’s something else. Mustard seeds start small, gets big.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, ‘Keep the faith, baby’ was a popular saying. If you liked that paraphrase of St Paul’s verses, then apply it to your prayer life. I promise that you will receive more blessings than you ever imagined.

In closing, the parallel account for this reading is found in Mark 11:12-14, about which I wrote in 2012.

Next time: Matthew 21:23-27

The Atlantic has an excellent article on Peanuts‘ creator Charles Schulz, who died in 2000.

‘The Spirituality of Snoopy’ explores Schulz’s Christianity and how it informed his long-running comic strip, which first appeared in print in 1950.

Stephen Lind, author of the recently published book A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz, gave an interview to the magazine. He said:

Many familiar with the Peanuts strip don’t think of Charles Schulz as a Christian pioneer. But he was a leader in American media when it comes to both the strength and frequency of religious references.

Interestingly, Blondie‘s creator, Chic Young, warned cartoonists in that era not to mention religion in comic strips.

Schulz was raised a Lutheran but, after serving with the United States Army in World War II and coming to grips with his mother’s death at that time, he drifted away from church. His father was worried his son was losing his faith. His widow Jean explained how Charles — Sparky — returned to the fold:

When he came back from the army he was very lonely. His mother had died and he was invited to church by a pastor who had prepared his mother’s service from the Church of God. Sparky’s father was worried about him and was talking to the pastor and so the pastor invited Sparky to come to church. So Sparky went to church, joined the youth group and for a good 4-5 years he went to Bible study and went to church 3 times a week (2 Bible studies, 1 service). He said he had read the Bible through three times and taught Sunday school. He was always looking for what those passages REALLY might have meant. Some of his discussions with priests and ministers were so interesting because he wanted to find out what these people (who he thought were more educated than he) thought.

When he taught Sunday school, he would never tell people what to believe. God was very important to him, but in a very deep way, in a very mysterious way.

This particular Church of God is a Wesleyan holiness group based in Anderson, Indiana. (There are other Churches of God.) Wesleyan pietism forbids alcohol and smoking.

Schulz’s daughter Amy Schulz Johnson eventually became a Mormon. In November 2015, she told the Deseret News that:

Her parents never told her not to drink alcohol, but because they never drank, she didn’t either.

“Our great life prepared me [for Mormonism], because I didn’t have to change much of anything,” Johnson said.

When Johnson was growing up, she said that her father dropped everything when she or her three siblings walked into his office. In fact, as a young child, she actually thought he was unemployed because he was always there for them.

That dedication also ended up saving some of the Schulz children’s friends. Johnson recalled:

“Some of my friends didn’t tell me until they were in their 40s the things that were happening in their homes,” Johnson said. “And … I can’t really word this properly, but they said, and this had everything to do with Dad, that coming to our house every weekend is what saved them emotionally. … Seeing a normal, nice dad who was a good person helped them survive what they were going through themselves. … Our home was a shelter from the storm for them.”

Johnson refers to her adolescence as “wonderful, happy and clean-cut.” She often tells people, “If you think Utah Valley Mormons are sheltered, you should’ve been a Schulz!” Johnson believes the Schulz residence was a place where God’s influence could be felt because “the Spirit is in homes of goodness.”

By that time, Schulz had made a lot of money from Peanuts and was able to transform his 28-acre estate in Sebastopol, California, into a self-contained family compound complete with a swimming pool, baseball fields, a golf course and a park.

The Atlantic article points out that, when A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1965, fewer than nine per cent of Christmas specials on American television contained religious references. The programme shows how materialism does not satisfy the Peanuts characters. Linus ends up going to the Bible and reads aloud the King James Version of Jesus’s birth from the Gospel of St Luke.

Two years before that, the debate over prayer in state schools was at its peak. Schulz penned a strip with Sally reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and ending it with ‘Amen!’

Schulz once said:

I preach in these cartoons, and I reserve the same rights to say what I want to say as the minister in the pulpit.

Out of nearly 17,800 strips, 560 contain a spiritual, biblical or theological reference. Clergy noticed and asked Schulz for permission to reproduce his comic strips for use at church. He willingly granted permission in nearly all cases.

His Bible had many handwritten notes in the margins. He also enjoyed reading theological commentaries on the Bible. During his time as a Sunday School teacher, he once led a group in a study of the entire Old Testament.

The Atlantic shared some of Schulz’s wry Biblical references in Peanuts:

In June of 1952, the somewhat sad and self-deprecating Charlie Brown borrowed Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes 1:14: “All is vanity!” In December of 1955, a shivering Snoopy found solace in Jesus’s words from John 16:33: “Be of good cheer, Snoopy … Yes, be of good cheer.”

Sometimes the Bible references were clearly cited. When he catches Snoopy taking food out of the refrigerator, Charlie Brown pulls out a Bible and quotes from the Ten Commandments: “Look, it says here in Exodus, ‘Thou shall not steal.’” Snoopy borrows his book, flips the page and hands it back. “Deuteronomy 25:4 …” Charlie Brown reads, “Thou shall not muzzle the ox while he treads out the grain.”

But often, they were more cryptic. When Linus asks Snoopy, “Does it bother you that the Bible doesn’t speak very highly of dogs?” the beagle replies with a reference to one of Jesus’s teachings, “Sure it bothers me, but I just turn the other muzzle.” In a famous strip from 1959, Linus built a sandcastle that the rain washed away. Linus concludes, “There’s a lesson to be learned here, but I don’t know what it is …” But many readers would have recognized the allusion to Jesus’s parable about a man who built his house on sand in Matthew 7, and Schulz later said that this was exactly what he intended.

In 1965, a Presbyterian minister, Robert L Short, wrote The Gospel According to Peanuts, which featured Schulz’s famous illustrations. Over 10 million copies were sold. Westminster John Knox Press published a 35th anniversary edition in 2000.

In 1968, Short wrote The Parables of Peanuts, which HarperCollins reissued in 2002.

Schulz was careful not to be didactic or domineering with his beliefs. He is remembered as a loving, generous, kind man.

Interestingly, he appeared regularly in Forbes‘s 400 wealthiest Americans lists. His success came from his gentle personality which shone through in his comic strips and characters. He wrote about what he knew and enjoyed.

His characters are based on real-life people — and a dog — in his milieu. He and Charlie Brown shared similar traits. Schulz was shy and retiring growing up. He was the youngest in his high school class. His family owned a dog that resembled Snoopy. Lucy was based on his first wife, Joyce Halverson, and Peppermint Patty on one of his mother’s cousins.

In later life, his Christianity took on a vaguer tone and, by the 1980s, he stopped going to church. However, his daughter Amy Schulz Johnson said that when she was on missionary work with the Mormons in England, Schulz wrote her weekly. She treasures those missives:

“It’s funny because if I read you parts of them, you would think that my dad was a stake president in our church or something,” Johnson said. “He would have the most beautiful things to say about Christ and the scriptures.”

In closing, it is interesting that Charles Schulz made ‘Good grief!’ common parlance and introduced ‘security blanket’ into the English language. In fact, in Britain, it’s called a ‘Linus blanket’!

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 17:14-20

Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon,[a] and it[b] came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.[c] 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”[d]

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Each of the synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — record this great healing miracle.

I wrote about Luke’s version (Luke 9:37-43) in 2014. That post addresses the variations in the three accounts. Mark’s, the most detailed, is included in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

It is worth recalling that Matthew 10:5-15 records that Jesus had already invested in the twelve apostles the gift of healing, the ability to perform creative miracles with the same power as His own.

The events in this passage took place shortly after Jesus, Peter, James and John descended from the mountain following the Transfiguration.

Here was a desperate man who knelt before Jesus, addressing Him as Lord, asking for His mercy towards his epileptic son (verses 14, 15). Not only was the boy epileptic but he also had a demon which prevented him from controlling his seizures and instead sent him into fire or water, causing him to risk injury or death.

The father was understandably aggrieved, all the more so because this was happening to his son, his heir. Luke’s version further clarifies the boy’s status as ‘only child’, making his state of mind and body even more desperate. Mark’s version adds that the boy is mute, so he had no way of communicating verbally.

The father’s despair is heightened because the disciples could not heal the lad (verse 16). Nine apostles would have been at the scene until Jesus and the other three arrived. Note that a large crowd was watching. Mark’s version says they were arguing. John MacArthur explains:

The other gospel writers tell us more about this crowd. Mark tells us it included scribes, Jewish legal experts, just the normal run-of-the-mill gang of people that populated the northern Galilee area. And also the nine other disciples who weren’t there at the Mount of Transfiguration. So you have the disciples, the scribes and the multitude of people. And they’re there to wait and to meet Jesus and the three who come down from the mountain.

The highly charged atmosphere brought a rebuke from Jesus (verse 17). Our two commentators differ on to whom he addressed his remark about a ‘faithless and twisted generation’. MacArthur says it was to the disciples in whom He had invested powerful healing gifts that they could not execute:

The whole generation was faithless and perverse, but He generalizes off of the specific and who were the specific ones who weren’t exercising faith? The disciples. It was the particular inability of the disciples from which He generalizes to the whole inability of the generation in which they lived, because the scribes standing there, they didn’t believe either. And the other nine disciples, they couldn’t pull it off. And the father himself was weak in faith.

Matthew Henry, on the other hand, surmises that Jesus was not addressing the disciples here but the crowd (emphases mine):

This is not spoken to the disciples, but to the people, and perhaps especially to the scribes, who are mentioned in Mark 9:14, and who, as it should seem, insulted over the disciples, because they had now met with a case that was too hard for them. Christ himself could not do many mighty works among a people in whom unbelief reigned. It was here owing to the faithlessness of this generation, that they could not obtain those blessings from God, which otherwise they might have had as it was owing to the weakness of the disciples’ faith, that they could not do those works for God, which otherwise they might have done. They were faithless and perverse. Note, Those that are faithless will be perverse and perverseness is sin in its worst colours. Faith is compliance with God, unbelief is opposition and contradiction to God. Israel of old was perverse, because faithless (Psalm 95:9), forward, for in them is no faith, Deuteronomy 32:20.

Then He asked, ‘How long am I to be with you?’ Henry explains:

Two things he upbraids them with. (1.) His presence with them so long “How long shall I be with you? Will you always need my bodily presence, and never come to such maturity as to be fit to be left, the people to the conduct of the disciples, and the disciples to the conduct of the Spirit and of their commission? Must the child be always carried, and will it never learn to go alone?” (2.) His patience with them so long How long shall I suffer you? Note, [1.] The faithlessness and perverseness of those who enjoy the means of grace are a great grief to the Lord Jesus. Thus did he suffer the manners of Israel of old, Acts 13:18. [2.] The longer Christ has borne with a perverse and faithless people, the more he is displeased with their perverseness and unbelief and he is God, and not man, else he would not suffer so long, nor bear so much, as he doth.

MacArthur adds that Jesus was looking forward to returning to God the Father:

You can see Him starting to get anxious to go back to the Father, can’t you? He sort of senses the end, how long do I have to endure this? You see, His contemporaries were disastrous failures and even His own disciples were continually having to learn the same lessons over and over and over and over. I mean, just look at the crowd. The crowd is thrill-seeking, they don’t really believe fully. The scribes, they’re gloating. Oh, you can know it, they’re gloating over the inability of the nine disciples to heal this young boy. I mean, they’re really happy they can’t do it. And the father is struggling with faith. And the disciples had failed to exercise the faith they needed to heal the young boy, even though they had the promise and the power. And so, to some degree, the whole bunch of them were faithless and twisted and diverted from trust in God. And Jesus says, thirty-three years is about all of this I can take.

Despite all of this, Jesus displayed His infinite mercy and instructed that the boy be brought to Him. His enduring compassion once again outweighed His frustration with sinful man. He rebuked the demon which immediately left the boy. Jesus instantly healed him (verse 18). He fully healed him at that moment.

The disciples approached Jesus privately to ask why they could not do the same thing (verse 19). He replied that it was because of their little faith (verse 20).

Then He employed two literary devices well known to the ancient Jews about faith: ‘like a grain of mustard seed’ and moving mountains. MacArthur explains both:

Most people misinterpret that mustard seed. The principle of the mustard seed is not that it’s little, no. The principle of the mustard seed is that it is little and it does what? It grows. You remember that principle? It’s in Matthew 13, sure you remember it. Verse 31, another parable He put forth unto them saying, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs and becomes a tree so the birds of air come and lodge in the branches of it.” And what you’ve got in the mustard seed is something that starts very, very small and grows very large

Please, it is not saying that if you have little tiny faith the size of a grain of mustard seed that you could say mountain be removed. It’s not talking about literal mountains. It’s talking about mountains of difficulty. It’s figurative. In fact, when the Jews…by the way, this was a rather common Jewish phrasewhen the Jews talked about removing mountains, they used it in reference to the ability to get past difficulties, or to remove difficulties. One writer says, “A great teacher who could really expound and interpret Scripture and who could explain and resolve difficulties was known as an uprooter or a pulverizer of mountains. To tear up, to uproot, to pulverize mountains were all regular phrases for removing difficulties. Jesus never meant this to be taken physically and literally. After all, the ordinary man seldom finds any necessity to remove a mountain. What He meant was, if you have faith enough, all difficulties can be solved and even the hardest task can be accomplished.”

So, what do we do? MacArthur tells us:

I believe there are many things that God desires for you to experience in your life that God desires to accomplish in your life that are available to you through the exercise of His divine power. But that power will never be tapped until you have the faith that starts small. And when it meets with resistance and when you don’t see it happen, the faith doesn’t die small, it gets larger and larger and larger. And you continue persistently in prayer …

He wants you to persist in prayer because that’s the extension of your faith. You see, if you just said, “God, I want this…” (snap) you’ve got it…you’d never learn the strength in your faith. You’d never be ready for the trial, would you? And so the Lord asks us to persist and persist

And listen to me very carefully then, the antidote to little faith is what? Prayer…persistent prayer. Listen, James says it, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man…what?…availeth much. Effectual dedicated fervent passionate continuous persistent prayer gets results. You may never know the full promise of God. You may never know the full blessedness of God. You may never know the full rewards that…of all that God wants to bestow upon you until you learn persistent prayer.

Some undergoing constant or continuing personal trials might scoff. However, if they pray the way MacArthur advises while they are waiting for resolution or relief, God will grant the wherewithal and comfort to withstand despair.

I know a few people in the offline world who have undergone a lot during their lives. One woman in particular has experienced the deaths of three close family members: her only sibling — a brother — in her childhood, later her husband and, two years later, a beloved son. However, through it all, her faith has grown and grown to the size of a mustard tree.

Bottom line: let’s stop moaning. Let’s start praying.

In closing, some manuscripts have a verse 21, wherein Jesus says that this particular demon could only be got rid of through fasting and praying. MacArthur says:

The terms “and fasting” are not there in the original text. Someone added them. Matthew 2:19 says this is not a time for fasting when the bridegroom is present. And verse 21 isn’t even in the best manuscripts of Matthew, it’s borrowed from Mark’s account but it is at the end of Mark’s account. The story does end with this statement. So somebody, some scribe thought it capped off Matthew’s account so he pulled it over and put it here. And that’s fine in a sense because it is the ending of the story in Mark 9:29 and what the Lord says in the end is this kind goes not out except by prayer.

Henry’s commentary says that fasting sharpens prayer:

Fasting and prayer are proper means for the bringing down of Satan’s power against us, and the fetching in of divine power to our assistance. Fasting is of use to put an edge upon prayer it is an evidence and instance of humiliation which is necessary in prayer, and is a means of mortifying some corrupt habits, and of disposing the body to serve the soul in prayer. When the devil’s interest in the soul is confirmed by the temper and constitution of the body, fasting must be joined with prayer, to keep under the body.

Next time: Matthew 17:22-23

Baptismal robes theologianorgThe Sunday after Easter is of historical importance to the Church. Find out more about the newly baptised and the old Latin liturgy which gave rise to its old name of Quasimodo Sunday.Doubting Thomas Carl-Heinrich-Bloch

This is also the Sunday when the gospel reading concerns the apostle Thomas’s encounter with Jesus one week after He rose from the dead:

Doubting Thomas — John 20:19-31

Doubting Thomas: When seeing is believing

Forbidden Bible Verses returns next week.

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