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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Romans 10:1-4

10 Brothers,[a] my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.[b]

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Last week’s post discussed Romans 9, wherein Paul explained why the Church opened to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. This was difficult for Paul’s audience of Jewish converts in Rome to understand.

Romans 10 picks up where Romans 9 leaves off. Here are the concluding verses from that chapter (emphases mine):

30 What should we say then? Those who aren’t Jews did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 Israel did look for a law that could make them right with God. But they didn’t find it.

32 Why not? Because they didn’t look for it by faith. They tried to get it by working for it. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall.  (Romans 9:30-32)

Powerful words.

Paul wanted desperately for his audience to understand that the way to salvation and belief in God is through Jesus Christ alone (verse 1).

Matthew Henry says that verse is a prayer of Paul’s:

It was not only his heart’s desire, but it was his prayer. There may be desires in the heart, and yet no prayer, unless those desires be presented to God. Wishing and woulding, if that be all, are not praying.

Paul says that the Jews have a ‘zeal’ for God, but not one that is based in ‘knowledge’, true understanding (verse 2).

There are many instances where Paul discussed his prior life as a Pharisee and how he was missing out on the truth of Jesus Christ. John MacArthur discusses several instances of these. Here is one from Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

Galatians 1:13, “For you have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it and profited in the Jews’ religion above many, my equals and my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the tradition of my fathers.” He says I bear witness. I bear witness that they have a zeal for God. How do you know that? I had it. I was so zealous for God, I was so zealous for what I thought was the truth of God and the tradition, I was so zealous for that that I relentlessly persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. I did all I could to slaughter the Christians. I was zealous for God.

Henry explains the knowledge that the Jews missed out on:

Their zeal was not according to knowledge. It is true God gave them that law for which they were so zealous; but they might have known that, by the appearance of the promised Messiah, an end was put to it. He introduced a new religion and way of worship, to which the former must give place. He proved himself the Son of God, gave the most convincing evidence that could be of his being the Messiah; and yet they did not know and would not own him, but shut their eyes against the clear light, so that their zeal for the law was blind.

Because of this, they closed their hearts and minds to God’s righteousness and refused to submit to Him (verse 3), even though they thought they were through the law.

MacArthur characterises Romans 10 as follows:

In chapter 9, as I said, the reason they’re unsaved is the sovereignty of God. Concurrent with that in chapter 10 is their own unbelief. And the theme here is the ignorance of Israel, a willing, unbelieving ignorance.

Paul goes on to say that the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus, put an end to the law of the Old Covenant (verse 4). The law was there only to prepare God’s chosen people in the way of holiness for Christ, the Redeemer. Note that Christ preached to the Jews first. He instructed His apostles to preach to the Jews. See last Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew 10:

10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,

10:6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Jesus wanted His Father’s people to be the first to know that He came to redeem them.

Henry explains this in a way that we can also apply to ourselves:

Christdid what the law could not do (Romans 8:3), and secured the great end of it. The end of the law was to bring men to perfect obedience, and so to obtain justification. This is now become impossible, by reason of the power of sin and the corruption of nature; but Christ is the end of the law. The law is not destroyed, nor the intention of the lawgiver frustrated, but, full satisfaction being made by the death of Christ for our breach of the law, the end is attained, and we are put in another way of justification. Christ is thus the end of the law for righteousness, that is, for justification; but it is only to every one that believeth. Upon our believing, that is, our humble consent to the terms of the gospel, we become interested in Christ’s satisfaction, and so are justified through the redemption that is in Jesus.

Even so, the following was the disappointing result that Paul desperately wanted to remedy. MacArthur says:

Number one, Israel was ignorant of the person of God. Can you imagine how devastating that is to them to hear that? They were ignorant of the person of God. Two, they were ignorant of the provision of Christ. Three, they were ignorant of the place of faith, the role that faith played. Four, they were ignorant of the parameters of salvation, the extent of it, the wideness of it, the inclusiveness of it. Fifth, they were ignorant of the predictions of Scripture. They were ignorant of the person of God, the provision of Christ, the place of faith, the parameters of salvation, the predictions of Scripture. The whole chapter then comes together to say Israel is lost because Israel is in the ignorance of unbelief.

And I say to you again that no man is ever lost because God makes some decree somewhere utterly unconnected to how that man chooses. They come together. And how God does that is His problem. The present rejection of Israel is not simply and only because of sovereign election, as if God withheld His grace. In fact, He preached and preached and preached and called and called and called and they refused to believe. And so they are found in chapter 10 in unbelieving ignorance.

This theme continues next week, when Paul cites Isaiah preaching to his own people who rejected his prophecy.

Next time — Romans 10:16-21

The following three posts date from 2009, when I read verses that were not in the Lectionary and wrote about them rather than going through one book of the Bible at a time, as I do now.

These are about Romans 9, most of which is not in the three-year Lectionary:

Romans 9:6-13 – election, New Covenant

Paul introduces the New Covenant to the Jews. Our salvation depends not on our lineage (i.e. Abrahamic descent) and not all will be saved.  Our election to salvation depends not on our own works but on God’s choosing.

11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls)  (Rom. 9:11)

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Romans 9:14-24 – election, New Covenant

This passage explains how and why God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, opened the promise of salvation to the Gentiles through the New Covenant: ‘not only Jews but also Gentiles’.

Key verses:

24Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?   (Romans 9:24)

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Romans 9:25-33faith, not works; New Covenant

This passage further explains how and why God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, opened the promise of salvation to the Gentiles.

Key verses:

30 What should we say then? Those who aren’t Jews did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 Israel did look for a law that could make them right with God. But they didn’t find it.

32 Why not? Because they didn’t look for it by faith. They tried to get it by working for it. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall.  (Romans 9:30-32)

Next time — Romans 10:1-4

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Romans 7:4-6

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.[a]

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Last week’s post introduced Paul’s preface into a discussion of our situation of no longer being bound to the law but bound to Christ.

Paul used marriage as his example. When a woman’s husband dies, she is free to remarry. So it is with us in a spiritual sense. Before Christ, believers — Paul is speaking to former Jews here — were bound to Mosaic law. However, Christ’s death and resurrection freed us from the law. We are now bound to Him individually, forever. We are also bound to Him collectively through the Church, His holy bride.

Our purpose in being bound to Him and no longer to the law is that we may produce fruits of faith for God (verse 4).

Matthew Henry has an excellent analysis of this verse. He first draws our attention to having ‘died to the law’, referred to again in verse 6 (emphases mine):

He does not say, “The law is dead” (some think because he would avoid giving offence to those who were yet zealous for the law), but, which comes all to one, You are dead to the law. As the crucifying of the world to us, and of us to the world, amounts to one and the same thing, so doth the law dying, and our dying to it. We are delivered from the law (Romans 7:6), katergethemen–we are nulled as to the law; our obligation to it as a husband is cassated and made void.

Through His death and resurrection Christ delivered us from bondage to the law, which could not save us. It could only make us aware of our sins:

It is dead, it has lost its power; and this (Romans 7:4) by the body of Christ, that is, by the sufferings of Christ in his body, by his crucified body, which abrogated the law, answered the demands of it, made satisfaction for our violation of it, purchased for us a covenant of grace, in which righteousness and strength are laid up for us, such as were not, nor could be, by the law. We are dead to the law by our union with the mystical body of Christ. By being incorporated into Christ in our baptism professedly, in our believing powerfully and effectually, we are dead to the law, have no more to do with it than the dead servant, that is free from his master, hath to do with his master’s yoke.

Our spiritual marriage is with Christ, not the law. As marriage is expected to be fruitful, so our union with Christ should be bearing the fruits of our faith, made possible by heavenly grace:

The wife is compared to the fruitful vine, and children are called the fruit of the womb. Now the great end of our marriage to Christ is our fruitfulness in love, and grace, and every good work. This is fruit unto God, pleasing to God, according to his will, aiming at his glory. As our old marriage to sin produced fruit unto death, so our second marriage to Christ produces fruit unto God, fruits of righteousness. Good works are the children of the new nature, the products of our union with Christ, as the fruitfulness of the vine is the product of its union with the root. Whatever our professions and pretensions may be, there is no fruit brought forth to God till we are married to Christ; it is in Christ Jesus that we are created unto good works, Ephesians 2:10. The only fruit which turns to a good account is that which is brought forth in Christ. This distinguishes the good works of believers from the good works of hypocrites and self-justifiers that they are brought forth in marriage, done in union with Christ, in the name of the Lord Jesus, Colossians 3:17. This is, without controversy, one of the great mysteries of godliness. (2.) That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, Romans 7:6. Being married to a new husband, we must change our way.

Under the law alone, believers could only be aware of their sins and were helpless in committing them time and time again; the law could not save them (verse 5).

John MacArthur breaks this verse down as follows:

This verse is so loaded, now. Hang on, I’m going to give it to you fast. Four key thoughts, here they come: Flesh, sin, law, death. Circle them in your Bible in verse 5: Flesh, sin, law, death. They go together. They’re all the same kind of thing. They operate in the same sphere.

The flesh produces sin, which is excited by the law, which it results in death. That’s a pathetic quartet, frankly. They are terms that describe man’s fallenness, man’s unregenerate state. They are a sad description. Let me take them piece by piece. And this is a very important statement at the beginning of verse 5, very definitive. “For when we were in – ” underline the word “in” “ – when we were in the flesh.” “In the flesh,” what does he mean by that? Well, we were really deep in it. It was our sphere of being. We were in the flesh. We were deeply in the flesh, profoundly in the flesh, engulfed in the flesh.

What is the flesh? It’s used two ways in the Bible and you must distinguish them. First, it’s used physically. And when flesh is used physically in the Bible, it has no evil connotation. Did you get that? When it’s used physically, it has no evil connotation. For Jesus Christ is come in the what? Flesh. “For the Word – ” John 1:14 “ – was made flesh.” When it is used in the physical sense, it has no evil connotation. In fact, in 1 John 4:2 it says that anyone who doesn’t confess that Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.

But listen, when flesh is used in the ethical or moral sense it always has an evil connotation. Always. When it’s used in the ethical moral sense. You find that, for example, in chapter 8, flesh is used in verse 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 13, flesh, flesh, flesh, flesh, flesh all through there. You find it in Galatians 5 at least four times. You find it in Ephesians chapter 2. And every time you find it used in an ethical moral sense, it has an evil connotation. And it is speaking of man’s unredeemed humanness. Very important. So “when we were in the flesh” is when we were unredeemed. When our being – our real personage – … living in us was engulfed in the flesh, was captive to the flesh.

Now may I suggest to you that that’s a past tense experience? I’m no longer in the flesh. That’s right. Neither are you if you’re a Christian. You say, “How do you know that?” I’d thought you’d ask. Look at 8:4. Verse 4 says we’re not to walk after the flesh. Then verse 5. “For they that are after the flesh – ” now there’s another phrase that’s just the same as “in the flesh.” The “in the flesh” and “after the flesh,” folks, are the same thing. “They mind the things of the flesh.” That’s their world, their sphere. “But they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be fleshly minded is death; to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the fleshly mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

With Christ as our Redeemer, we are no longer dead to sin in the law. In our union with Christ, we do the right things to please Him and God the Father, as divine grace and the Holy Spirit enable us so to do (verse 6).

MacArthur explains that Paul is referring to the fruits of faith here, not the erroneous works-based salvation:

Because of Christ we bear fruit. May I remind you that this is not a command, this is a statement of fact? It could read, “in order that we bring forth fruit.” We do. There’s no such thing as a no-fruit Christian. Salvation has a product. Because of a transformed life, we bear fruit unto God. Now carry that back to the question at the beginning of chapter 6. When you preach a grace salvation, and you ask people to come to Christ by grace through faith, and they don’t have to do anything to earn it, and you’re under grace, and sin abounds grace much more abounds, does that lead to sin? No it doesn’t because chapter 6 says that if you’re truly transformed you produce holiness, and chapter 7 says if you’re truly married to Jesus Christ you will bring forth fruit unto God. Just the opposite is true.

The great theologian, [Charles] Hodge, wrote, “As far as we are concerned, redemption is in order to produce holiness. We are delivered from the law in order that we may be united to Christ. And we’re united to Christ in order that we may bring forth fruit unto God.” He goes on to say, “The only evidence of union with Christ is bringing forth fruit unto God. As deliverance from the penalty of the law is in order to produce holiness, it is vain to expect that deliverance except with a view to the end for which it is granted.”

In other words, if you’re saved, you’re going to produce fruit unto God. What is fruit? Well, we’ve studied this in the past. Two things: Attitude and action. What’s attitude fruit? Galatians 5:22-23. “The fruit of the Spirit is – ” what? “ – love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith meekness, self-control.” That’s attitude.

What about action fruit? Hebrews chapter 13. “The fruit of your lips praise unto God.” Philippians chapter 4. The fruit of a loving heart, a gift sent to the apostle Paul. Philippians talks about the fruit of righteousness. Any righteous act, any act which glorifies God, is fruit. Any right attitude or right act is fruit. And when Christ transforms your life, and you are dead to the law, and you come alive to God, it is not just because of a past historical event, it is because of a present living Christ, with whom you are one, and in whom He produces fruit unto God. He is the vine and we are the – what? – branches. And the vine produces the fruit through the branches.

So the question of 6:1-2 is again answered. Salvation has a product, but the product isn’t abuse, and the product is licentiousness, and the product isn’t libertinism, and the product isn’t license, and the product isn’t sinfulness, thinking you’re going to get forgiven for everything you do because of some transaction that’s made. The product of true salvation is chapter 6, holiness; chapter 7, fruitfulness, and fruit unto God. That means fruit that glorifies God.

As I am writing this on Pentecost Sunday, here is a closing thought from MacArthur on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives:

This, of course, is the work of the Holy Spirit We still serve the law In fact, we serve it better than we could before we were redeemed. Because we serve not the letter of the law but the spirit.  We no longer are slaves to a legal set of values and rules in order to gain favor with God, but we now serve God out of love because He’s granted us salvation We are free, free to serve God, not free to serve ourselves.  We did that before.  We aren’t legalists serving the letter, but in newness of spirit we serve Christ. 

So somebody asks the question.  If we’re free from the law as Christians, is the law binding on us?  The answer is no and yes.  It is not binding in the sense that our acceptance with God depends on it.  It is binding in the sense that our new life seeks to serve it.  You see, the law couldn’t save you because you couldn’t keep it.  Now that God saved you, the law can’t condemn you, and for the first time in your life by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can keep it So we’re not under the law condemnation but we serve God’s law out of the depths of a committed heart.

Is the law important?  Oh yes.  Can we say with the psalmist, “O how I love Thy law?”  Oh yes.  Even though it can’t save us?  Yes.  Even though it would condemn us?  Yes.  Because Jesus Christ has born that condemnation and by planting within us the divine nature has enabled us to keep that very law And we don’t serve it externally, but out of newness of spirit.

So, we’re dead to the law in the sense that it could save us or condemn us.  But listen, people, we are more alive to the law now in terms of serving it to the glory of God than we’ve ever been

Paul has much more to say about the law and sin, to be continued next week.

Next time — Romans 7:7-14

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.

Romans 7:1-3

Released from the Law

Or do you not know, brothers[a]—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.[b] Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

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Last week’s post discussed the last two verses of Romans 5; God’s law makes us aware of our wretched sinfulness, but, thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection, believers have the promise of eternal life.

Most of the first Christians in Rome had been Jews, therefore, Paul wrote Romans in a Jewish context. The law was still very important to them. However, Paul wanted them to see that, outside of the moral law in the Ten Commandments, it was obsolete with Christ’s death and resurrection.

Throughout the Old Testament, we read numerous references to the law and how it must be obeyed. With the New Covenant that Christ initiated, however, we have the gift of grace and justification by faith through that grace.

Paul wanted his audience to understand that obeying the old Mosaic laws could not bring salvation. He began explaining that in Romans 6. John MacArthur recaps Paul’s thinking for us (emphases mine):

[Romans] 6:14. “For sin shall not have dominion over you.” And here is an absolutely shocking statement to a Jew who all his or her lifelong had been committed to the law. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Now a statement like that has to be defended. It just has to be defended. There’s no way that Paul can make that statement in 6:14 and then walk away from it and write the rest of this epistle. It’s going to leave such a massive block in their minds, he has to deal with what he just said. We are not under the law.

Now would you notice there are two basic statements in verse 14? “For sin shall not have dominion over you.” That’s the first statement. Now listen carefully. He explained the meaning of that statement in 6:15-23. That is an exposition of that statement. The second statement, “for you are not under the law, but under grace,” he explains in chapter 7. He makes those two statements, explains one, and then the other because he cannot leave them unexplained. For those who have such a high and sacred view of the law will be devastated by his statement and they will jettison all of his theology when he says “you are not under the law.” They have all their lifetime lived under the law. It’s all they’ve known. So he must explain it. And I believe he does it in chapter 7.

So now you understand the rationale for chapter 7. Against a background of such affirmation of God’s law, there must be some explanation about what it means to say we are not under the law. It seems that men have been under the law for a long time, how has that and why has that changed?

Now let me give you an overview before we go specifically into chapter 7. And I’m hurrying as rapidly as I can. Remember the context of all of this. The major theme of Romans is justification by faith. In other words, you’re saved not by keeping the law but by believing, right? Through grace. Now we have started with justification by faith in chapter 3. The first couple of chapters showed us how sinful we are. We hit 3:21 and we get into justification by faith, and it runs all the way to the end of chapter 8. Chapter 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, all justification by faith. That’s the theme of all of those. And then in 9 to 11, he applies it to Israel, and then in 12 to the end he shows how it works out in living. But the main theme is justification by faith.

Having presented the doctrine itself in chapters 3 and 4, he then is presenting the fruit of that doctrine. And the first one was chapter 5, and in chapter 5 we learned that the first fruit of justification was security. We have peace with God. That’s settled. Security.

The second fruit of which he speaks in chapter 6 is holiness. We have union with Christ in chapter 6, and now His holiness is imparted to us. So the fruit of justification: First security, second holiness. Now we come to chapter 7 and the third fruit is liberty. Liberty. We are free from the law. Marvelous. And we’re going to see even more fruit of justification. But the point that we’ve been trying to stress since we got into this thing in chapter 3 is that salvation has tremendous effect. You cannot claim to be a Christian without a demonstrable effect in your life. Salvation transforms people.

That’s the essence of what Paul is spending chapter after chapter to tell us. We have in chapter 5 peace with God. We have in chapter 6 union with Christ. We have in chapter 7 freedom from the law. All of that is the fruit of salvation. And that all really answers the rather silly question in 6:1, doesn’t it? “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” You see, that’s what the critic would say. Your doctrine of justification by faith through grace means that you can just sin all you want and every time you sin God has grace so your doctrine leads to unrighteous living.

In other words, the legalist says, “Boy, we keep people toeing the mark here. We’ve got all the rules. When you come along and say, ‘You’re not saved by the law. The law can’t save you. You can’t keep the law. You’re saved by grace through faith.’ You’re just turning people loose and they’re going to run amuck.” And so they accuse him of the doctrine that leads to sin. And he says quite the opposite. True salvation leads to holiness, right? That’s what we saw in chapter 6. It doesn’t lead to license. It leads to the very opposite of license. It leads to holiness, chapter 6. Chapter 7, it leads to freedom from the law.

Paul begins by saying that the law applies only to living persons (verse 1). Once we die, we are no longer bound to law.

In order to begin his explanation, he writes of marriage. A wife must remain with her husband as long as he lives, but, if he dies, she is no longer bound by law to him (verse 2).

If a wife is still married to her husband, who is alive, and lives with another man, then she becomes an adulteress. However, if her husband dies, she, as a widow, may remarry (verse 3).

Paul is saying that, under the Old Covenant, God’s people were married to the law. They had nothing else. Under the New Covenant, though, things changed. Now their bond — an eternal one — is with Jesus Christ.

We speak of the Church, of which we are a part, as Christ’s bride.

MacArthur explains:

Salvation is a complete change of relationship. You no longer have the first husband you had. You no longer are under the bondage of the law. You’re now married to Jesus Christ.

It’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? We see it in Ephesians 5 where the church is seen as the bride and He is the bridegroom. We see it in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 where we are an espoused wife having a marriage consummated to Christ in glory in the future. So we are called to be married to another and it tells us who it is. “To Him who is raised from the dead.” Notice it says “is raised,” not “was raised”? Who is – in other words, it’s emphasizing His present life. We are not only identified in union with a dead Savior in the past, but we are one with a living Savior in the present. It’s a great truth.

There’s one good thought. I would just draw you back to 6:9 for a moment, I’ll tie this in. Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies – what? – no more. Will Christ ever die again? Will He? Then will we ever lose our husband? Never. That’s a great word about the security of our salvation. That’s a great word about the security of our marriage bond with Christ. Our husband will never die. He will never die. And so we will ever be secure in Him.

And so, we died in Christ by the mysterious miracle of our union with Him, by grace through faith. And we rise to walk in newness of life. And again I say, folks – and this is the salient element of all of this teaching – salvation is a total transformation. We are given security, chapter 5. In us is produced holiness, chapter 6. And liberty from the law, chapter 7. We are free from a works righteousness, from trying to earn our salvation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the key.

As Eastertide is coming to a close with Pentecost next week, this is well worth contemplating.

More on this theme follows next week.

Next time — Romans 7:4-6

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Romans 4:6-12

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

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Last week’s post focussed on Romans 3, including these important verses:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

In Romans 4, Paul looks at the justification of Abraham, who was also circumcised — albeit some years later after God chose him to be the father of nations.

Paul’s objective was to convince the Jews that circumcision did not confer salvation or righteousness.

That means that Gentiles could also be justified via faith through grace.

Here are the first five verses of Romans 4:

Abraham Justified by Faith

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

St. Paul observes in this paragraph when and why Abraham was thus justified; for he has several things to remark upon that. It was before he was circumcised, and before the giving of the law; and there was a reason for both.

I. It was before he was circumcised, Romans 4:10. His faith was counted to him for righteousness while he was in uncircumcision. It was imputed, Genesis 15:6, and he was not circumcised till Genesis 17:1-27. Abraham is expressly said to be justified by faith fourteen years, some say twenty-five years, before he was circumcised. Now this the apostle takes notice of in answer to the question (Romans 4:9), Cometh this blessedness then on the circumcision only, or on the uncircumcision also? Abraham was pardoned and accepted in uncircumcision, a circumstance which, as it might silence the fears of the poor uncircumcised Gentiles, so it might lower the pride and conceitedness of the Jews, who gloried in their circumcision, as if they had the monopoly of all happiness.

John MacArthur has more:

Paul has told us how to be right with God and he said a man is right with God not by what he does but by what he believes, by believing in Jesus Christ and His perfect work. And now it is very important that Abraham be his illustration because this that he has just taught would be unacceptable to the Jewish mind. And so he selects Abraham to make his point.

Let me give you some reasons why. First, Abraham would show the eternal truth of righteousness by grace through faith since Abraham was an Old Testament character. In other words, by using Abraham, Paul is saying this is nothing new, this is something very old. Abraham even preceded Moses. Abraham even preceded the identity of the nation Israel. Abraham really belongs in the patriarchal period, the very primitive time. He appears early on in the book of Genesis. And if Paul can establish that a man in the book of Genesis was saved by grace through faith and not of works, then he has given to us a timeless truth and nothing new at all.

Secondly, he selects Abraham because Abraham is also the supreme example of faith. Nobody in the Old Testament exercised as much or more faith than Abraham. And the New Testament even tells us that Abraham — the book of Galatians tells us — is the father of all who believe. In a very real sense, all who come to God by faith are children of Abraham, who sort of set the standard for faith by believing God in a most incredible way.

Abraham obeyed God without question. He left his extended family to go to a new land. He believed that his wife Sarah would bear a son, even when she had been barren and long past child-bearing age. He was willing to sacrifice his only son for God, although God relented in that test of faith.

Here is a bit more about Abram/Abraham from MacArthur:

Abram was his name first. It means “exalted father.” God changed his name to Abraham which means “the father of many nations,” for He had given him that promise. And it was twofold. Physically from the loins of Abraham would come multitudes of people, millions of people. The Semitic world, Arab and Jew alike, descended from Abraham. Genesis 17, the first 8 verses, talk about how God said Abraham will produce generations of people. In fact, it is said that they would be as the sand of the sea, or the stars of the heavens. He was the father of many, but not only physically, spiritually as well; for he is the father of all those who are of faith. He is the pattern established, and all others who put their faith in God follow the pattern of their father, Abraham.

Galatians makes this abundantly clear. Paul, writing in chapter 3 verse 6, says: “Even as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness, know ye therefore that they who are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham, and the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed, so then they who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

So, not only did Abraham in a sense produce physical seed, but as well set the standard for spiritual production. And so, as millions follow his directive of faith, they occupy a place uniquely identified in the Scripture as children of Abraham. And that is because he is the example of justification by faith. And Paul makes that point in Romans and as I noted, he makes it in Galatians because it is so very important.

The Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have liturgical prayers that mention Abraham as being ‘our father in faith’.

In verses 6 – 8, Paul mentions David in his discourse by citing Psalm 32:1-2. It is further proof that we are justified by faith, not works. None of our works can ever measure up to righteousness, because we are always imperfect, always prone to sin. We need God’s infinite grace at all times.

MacArthur provides the background to David’s life in the context of Psalm 32. David had committed adultery by the time he wrote it:

Now, basically you have in verse 7 a sinner characterized by iniquity and sin, you have in verse 8 a sinner characterized by sin, and in both cases the Lord forgives and does not hold that sin against the person. So, we know that that didn’t happen by works because both verses define the individual as a what? As a sinner. So how can you say a sinner is blessed? Well, you can only say that if he’s been forgiven, or if the Lord does not put his sin to his account, and that is exactly the case. And it doesn’t come by works, it comes by faith. You see, the truly blessed man is the one who is forgiven of his sin. And by the way, this is a quote from Psalm 32 verses 1 and 2. And believe me, at that juncture of David’s life, he knew guilt. He had been involved in an adultery. He had been involved in what amounts to murder. He had desecrated his throne and the sanctity of his own virtue. He was a vile wretched sinner. In Psalm 51, he went through such agony and such pain. He felt as if God had abandoned him. He was under the horrible experience of guilt. He says in Psalm 32 that his life juices dried up, and that’s what happens when guilt occurs. Saliva, one of the life juices, dries up. Anxiety creates pressure in the head that restricts the flow of the blood, another of the life juices. And the lymphatic system is affected and the nervous system is affected and he began to be old before his time and he began to ache in his joints and he began to be sick. Guilt does that.

And then in the midst of all of that he experienced the goodness of God. No wonder he said twice, “Blessed is the man.” “Blessed is the man whose sins the Lord forgives.” “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin.” That’s the truly blessed man. He knows forgiveness. And so David supports Paul’s point. And it’s helpful for us to know that Abraham was a pre-Mosaic figure, David was a Mosaic figure. Abraham predates the clear definition of the Mosaic covenant and so we see that God redeems people pre-Mosaic by faith. David shows us that God redeems people in the Mosaic era by faith. And the New Testament carries it into our own era. Always at all times redemption is a matter of faith resulting in imputed righteousness.

Paul then asks the Jews if imputed righteousness is only for the circumcised, then, how was Abraham included when he was not circumcised yet God found him to be righteous (verses 9, 10)?

Paul answers his question by saying that Abraham’s circumcision was the ‘seal’ of his righteousness before God. Furthermore, as he was righteous in God’s eyes before his circumcision, then, He would consider other uncircumcised men to also be righteous (verse 11).

Therefore, Abraham became not only the father of the circumcised, but also of the uncircumcised who walk in his same journey of obedience in faith through grace (verse 12).

Henry says that sacraments are the seals of the covenant that has been agreed between God and man, thanks to the blood that Jesus shed on our behalf:

The tenour of the covenants must first be settled before the seal can be annexed. Sealing supposes a previous bargain, which is confirmed and ratified by that ceremony. After Abraham’s justification by faith had continued several years only a grant by parole, for the confirmation of Abraham’s faith God was pleased to appoint a sealing ordinance, and Abraham received it; though it was a bloody ordinance, yet he submitted to it, and even received it as a special favour, the sign of circumcision, &c. Now we may hence observe, (1.) The nature of sacraments in general: they are signs and seals–signs to represent and instruct, seals to ratify and confirm. They are signs of absolute grace and favour; they are seals of the conditional promises; nay, they are mutual seals: God does in the sacraments seal to us to be to us a God, and we do therein seal to him to be to him a people. (2.) The nature of circumcision in particular: it was the initiating sacrament of the Old Testament; and it is here said to be, [1.] A sign–a sign of that original corruption which we are all born with, and which is cut off by spiritual circumcision,–a commemorating sign of God’s covenant with Abraham,–a distinguishing sign between Jews and Gentiles,–a sign of admission into the visible church,–a sign prefiguring baptism, which comes in the room of circumcision, now under the gospel, when (the blood of Christ being shed) all bloody ordinances are abolished; it was an outward and sensible sign of an inward and spiritual grace signified thereby. [2.] A seal of the righteousness of the faith. In general, it was a seal of the covenant of grace, particularly of justification by faith–the covenant of grace, called the righteousness which is of faith (Romans 10:6), and it refers to an Old-Testament promise, Deuteronomy 30:12.

What does this mean in a Christian context? The grace God confers on us in the Sacraments enables us to live a holy life, which we are obliged to do in faith.

This is Henry’s caveat about the Jews of Paul’s day and ourselves as Christians:

See here who are the genuine children and lawful successors of those that were the church’s fathers: not those that sit in their chairs, and bear their names, but those that tread in their steps; this is the line of succession, which holds, notwithstanding interruptions. It seems, then, those were most loud and forward to call Abraham father that had least title to the honours and privileges of his children. Thus those have most reason to call Christ Father, not that bear his name in being Christians in profession, but that tread in his steps.

The sacraments and holy ordinances impart grace, although they are not salvific in and of themselves, as MacArthur explains:

Listen very carefully. Many people today are basing their salvation from eternal hellfire on some infant baptism, or some confirmation, or some adult baptism, or some communion involvement, or some religious rite and ceremony. There are many people who call themselves Christians in our society who even would call themselves evangelical, who actually believe that their children are secured eternally for the covenant by infant baptism. And many are hoping in their religious rites, and though they be not circumcision they be basically the same perspective. They parallel …

So, Paul is dealing with a bigger picture than at first we might understand. And he’s dealing with the issue that religious rites and ceremonies do not justify, and when saying that he talks to our time.

Ultimately:

We are saved by grace through what? Faith. These symbols are only symbols and signs. You say, “Well, can I get to heaven if I haven’t been baptized?” Yes. You say, “Then I don’t have to be baptized!” No. “Why?” Because baptism is an act of… You say it: obedience. And if you have confessed Jesus as Lord you will what? Obey Him, and it becomes the point of your testimonyAnd that’s what Paul is teaching us.

Obedience to God characterised Abraham’s life. Jesus was — and is — fully obedient to His Father.

Let us, therefore, obey Him, too.

Next time — Romans 5:20-21

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 12:12-17

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

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Last week’s post discussed the previous set of verses, difficult to digest in some ways, about discipline from God. I suggested that we liken God to a divine coach, strengthening us through our trials the way an athletics coach would build up his charges’ strength through rigorous exercise.

The author of Hebrews is encouraging the new converts from Judaism to be strong and persevere with the faith, no matter what trials befall them. They lost their families and friends because of their Christian faith. Not surprisingly, they were faltering.

There were also Hebrews who were attending Christian worship services but had not fully committed themselves as followers of Christ. The author of Hebrews wanted them to make that commitment.

John MacArthur explains that the author’s intent was to save both groups from apostasy (emphases mine):

Sprinkled among these believing Jews were some who hadn’t even yet been saved. And they had identified superficially as professing Christians with this Jewish community of believers, and they were there in name only, not in truth. And they were in danger of turning around and going back to apostate, to be apostates, to apostatize if you want the verb. They were in danger of saying, “Oh, this is ridiculous. I’ve seen enough of this; I’m going back to Judaism.” And had they done that, they would have been locked in unbelief forever because they would have rejected against full information. And that’s what apostasy is.

These verses are addressed to faltering believers. Therefore, the author exhorts them to get themselves in position for the endurance that faith demands (verse 12), an analogy used elsewhere in the Bible, including the Old Testament:

What he’s really saying in athletic metaphor is get your second wind. Sure, the outward man is perishing, but what did Isaiah say? “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their” – what? – “their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” That’s a promise of God.

These converts, like any other Christian throughout history, needed to be stronger spiritually. Poor spiritual positioning could cause them to become spiritually lame, when they should be healed (verse 13).

MacArthur explains the running analogy based on his own personal experience at school. The upper case ‘He’ below refers to the Holy Spirit, who inspired the author of Hebrews along with every other author of the Bible:

You know, if you’re an athlete, and you’re going to train for a track meet, you’re going to discipline yourself or you’re not going to be any good in the track meet. Can you imagine a guy coming out to run a mile who’s never worked out? You see, the discipline isn’t meant to slow him down; the discipline is meant to speed him up. It’s meant to make him faster in the race. And God brings things into our lives in order that He might speed us, not slow us down.

You know, in any kind of a race, you can always tell when a guy gets tired. I ran enough track to know this. And you can always tell two things automatically happen. I know this from my – I’m telling you, personal experience; this has happened to me many, many times. The first thing that happens to a good runner, when he gets tired, is his arms drop. One of the first things you learn in running is the motion of your arms is very important and very strategic to the movement of your body. And the rhythm is all – all needs to be in congruity. It has to be going together. And you can always tell when a guy gets tired, because his arms start dropping, and that breaks his rhythm. You see, your arms are powerful enough to pull you into your stride. And any good runner works very diligently on the motion of his arms. And as he gets tired, his arms begin to drop, and then he begins to lose the drive.

The second thing that always happens to a runner, when he gets tired, is his knees begin to wobble. Now any of you guys that have run track, you know this; you know what it’s like to say, “Go, leg, go,” and it doesn’t. Right? And your knees are just going like this. Well, I can – I can remember so many times running a 440 and coming around to the 380 mark, with 60 yards to go, and saying, “Go, knees, go,” and they just – you just have to go – “Mmm” – like this, and just put one out in front of the other, almost forcing each leg individually.

And so, this is a very graphic illustration that He has here. The arms begin to droop, the rhythm is lost, and pretty soon he’s fighting against the growing numbness in his legs. And you know what happens then? If he begins to concentrate on the numbness in his legs, he’s finished. There’s only one thing that a runner can do at that point, and that is to look at the goal line. To look at that goal line and tell himself, “I am going to make that goal.” It’s the only thing he can do.

So, it is with a Christian. There may come times in the Christian life when your arms begin to droop, and your knees begin to wobble, and you don’t know if you can get one in front of the other one again, where you don’t look at your wobbly knees, and you don’t start looking at your drooping arms, and you just look at that finish line. And better than any guy who ever ran a race, you have the about guaranteed condition that you’re going to be the victor. And with that in the back of your mind, you fire on.

The author says that the converts must not only strive to make peace with everyone but also be holy, because without holiness, none of us will ever see God in the life to come (verse 14). Both of those are very difficult to do, especially when we spend so much time in the world of work and leisure outside the home. Temptations are everywhere.

Matthew Henry says:

Observe, First, It is the duty of Christians, even when in a suffering state, to follow peace with all men, yea, even with those who may be instrumental in their sufferings. This is a hard lesson, and a high attainment, but it is what Christ has called his people to. Sufferings are apt to sour the spirit and sharpen the passions; but the children of God must follow peace with all men. Secondly, Peace and holiness are connected together; there can be no true peace without holiness. There may be prudence and discreet forbearance, and a show of friendship and good-will to all; but this true Christian peaceableness is never found separate from holiness. We must not, under pretence of living peaceably with all men, leave the ways of holiness, but cultivate peace in a way of holiness. Thirdly, Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The vision of God our Saviour in heaven is reserved as the reward of holiness, and the stress of our salvation is laid upon our holiness, though a placid peaceable disposition contributes much to our meetness for heaven.

This is why God gives us trials and tribulations, so that we endure them and come out as stronger Christians.

The author continues, exhorting the converts to make sure that everyone can obtain God’s grace. He also tells them not become bitter people, because bitterness takes root all too easily (verse 15). This verse concerns our personal behaviour and the example we must set as Christians.

MacArthur says that everyone who encounters us is affected in some way by the example we set. MacArthur tells us:

Christians, so often this is true – isn’t it? – when you say, “When I sin, it’s only my business.” No, it’s not. When you fall, somebody’s watching.

And our example to others will give either a good or a bad impression to them of Christianity.

MacArthur relates a true story about a father who was fond of strong drink and his young son:

I always think of the story my dad used to tell about the father who went out to get drunk again, and he was walking through the snow to the bar. And he hadn’t gone very far from his house, and he thought something was following him. And he turned around, and here was his little boy, six years old, stretching as far as he could to make sure he put his feet in his dad’s footsteps in the snow. And his dad said, “Where are you going?”

He says, “I’m just following your footsteps, Dad.” And as the story goes, his dad went home and broke down and cried, and some – through some other instrumentation, God sent somebody, and that man became saved and later told that story.

Therefore:

Well, you know, somebody’s walking along, just putting their feet right in the spot you’ve made. And if you’re wobbling around, knocking into everybody’s lane you’re going to mess up a lot of Christians. Make our paths straight, stay in your own lane. Run a smooth, clear, straight path. The Greek word here is a smooth, straight path. Now there’s a – this again is an Old Testament concept. I’m thinking it’s Proverbs 4 – I might be wrong – 25, yes, “Let thine eyes look right on” – that’s good; you didn’t know that was in the Bible, did you? – “Let thing eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look” – straight ahead – “straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” Make a straight path and go. Don’t wander from side to side, looking over the edge, seeing what the world’s doing. You’re going to mess up some other Christians.

Now, I like the term that is used here for paths, trochias in the Greek, and it means the track left by wheels. You know, the cart would go down in a straight line; it would leave tracks. And the point is that you’re not only running, you’re leaving a track. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? You’re leaving a pattern for somebody to follow. And there’s – somewhere back there are Christians who are either going like this after your life or like this. See? Knowing over other Christians while they follow you.

And so, continuance, beloved, isn’t just for your sake; it’s for whoever’s looking at you. It’s so that you can provoke each other to love and good works that you’re to run a straight path. It affects other people.

The author tells his audience not to engage in sexual immorality or to be unholy, like Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew (verses 16, 17). Esau could find no peace after that.

Henry explains the seriousness of Esau’s sin. God passed judgement on him and gave him no inner peace for his foolishness. Henry also picks up on this as a way for the author of Hebrews to warn about apostasy:

The apostle backs the caution with an awful example, and that is, that of Esau, who though born within the pale of the church, and having the birthright as the eldest son, and so entitled to the privilege of being prophet, priest, and king, in his family, was so profane as to despise these sacred privileges, and to sell his birthright for a morsel of meat. Where observe, First, Esau’s sin. He profanely despised and sold the birthright, and all the advantages attending it. So do apostates, who to avoid persecution, and enjoy sensual ease and pleasure, though they bore the character of the children of God, and had a visible right to the blessing and inheritance, give up all pretensions thereto. Secondly, Esau’s punishment, which was suitable to his sin. His conscience was convinced of his sin and folly, when it was too late: He would afterwards have inherited the blessing, &c. His punishment lay in two things: 1. He was condemned by his own conscience; he now saw that the blessing he had made so light of was worth the having, worth the seeking, though with much carefulness and many tears. 2. He was rejected of God: He found no place of repentance in God or in his father; the blessing was given to another, even to him to whom he sold it for a mess of pottage. Esau, in his great wickedness, had made the bargain, and God in his righteous judgment, ratified and confirmed it, and would not suffer Isaac to reverse it.

The Jewish converts were in danger of throwing away the birthright they had been given when they became Christians. The worst thing that a Christian can do is to spit in the face of that birthright, denying Jesus Christ and God the Father only to embrace the world and sin.

Henry explains:

We may hence learn, [1.] That apostasy from Christ is the fruit of preferring the gratification of the flesh to the blessing of God and the heavenly inheritance. [2.] Sinners will not always have such mean thoughts of the divine blessing and inheritance as now they have. The time is coming when they will think no pains too great, no cares no tears too much, to obtain the lost blessing. [3.] When the day of grace is over (as sometimes it may be in this life), they will find no place for repentance: they cannot repent aright of their sin; and God will not repent of the sentence he has passed upon them for their sin. And therefore, as the design of all, Christians should never give up their title, and hope of their Father’s blessing and inheritance, and expose themselves to his irrevocable wrath and curse, by deserting their holy religion, to avoid suffering, which, though this may be persecution as far as wicked men are concerned in it, is only a rod of correction and chastisement in the hand of their heavenly Father, to bring them near to himself in conformity and communion. This is the force of the apostle’s arguing from the nature of the sufferings of the people of God even when they suffer for righteousness’ sake; and the reasoning is very strong.

This is the second half of Hebrews 12, designed to put a holy fear into the converts. This passage is in the Lectionary and read on one of the Sundays in the season after Pentecost:

A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly[a] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

People don’t believe that. It’s an analogy, they say. Or they say that it was true at the time it was written, but no longer.

No. If Scripture says that God is a consuming fire — and similar phrasing occurs throughout the Bible — then, we should take it on board as truth.

In closing, returning to verse 15, we need to watch out for others, too, lest they stumble. MacArthur explains the Holy Spirit’s intention in that verse:

Here’s a guy who comes to the church, sees Christianity, sticks around, sticks around sticks around — falls away into apostasy. Hebrews chapter 6, classic definition. Now He says, “Hey, people, take the oversight; don’t let that happen. Don’t let that guy go.”

You say, “Well, I don’t want to say anything. I-I-”

That’s the stupidest remark you could ever make. Ridiculous you don’t want to say anything.

“Don’t want to offend.”

Offend! Offend! Go offend! Wow, the cross itself is an offense, and let’s do a little offending. I mean if a guy’s going to go to hell just because we’re afraid to offend him, that’s the worst offense imaginable. And these people – you know, grace is available. He says, “They’re going to – grace is available, but they’re going to fall back from grace.” He says, “You take the oversight, and you watch and don’t let it happen to them.”

There is much to consider in these six verses. We have great responsibilities as Christians. This is why God is continuously training us to be better, holier people. He wants us to persevere in patience, with our eyes on the reward to come in Heaven.

Next time — Hebrews 13:9-14

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 12:4-7

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

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Last week’s reading discussed the faith that Moses displayed. The rest of Hebrews 11 described the travails and trials other persons in the Old Testament endured; despite them, they never faltered in their faith.

In Hebrews 12, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, takes that steadfastness in faith from the Old Testament and encourages the Hebrew converts to apply it to their own Christian journey.

These are the first three verses (emphases outside of the subtitles mine):

Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Do Not Grow Weary

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

This chapter, John MacArthur says, is dedicated to the new converts who have been persecuted by their families and friends. Their joy and confidence in Christ is faltering. Some regret the choice they made:

the primary target of these words, as we shall look at them, is to the saved who are going through some terrible trials, some real sufferings, some tribulation, some anguish, some affliction. Unless they think that this is something bad within Christianity, and unless they begin in their minds to disqualify Christianity on the basis of trouble and say, “Well, I thought Christianity was a happy thing; I thought there was supposed to be joy; I thought there was supposed to be peace; I thought God was supposed to take care of us and supply our needs and give us answers for our questions, and smooth a way, and etcetera, etcetera. Now I’ve got all this trouble and worse than I had before. I’ve got everybody I used to love hating me.”

That holds true today, doesn’t it? A convert among agnostics or atheists is sure to lose some of his family and friends during his Christian journey.

That can also happen when one formally changes denomination.

However, we have to weigh our tribulations in these circumstances against what God’s people endured in the Old Testament. Granted, some Christians are being physically persecuted and put to death. However, millions of others are not. Therefore, we need to keep a perspective on personal trials and tribulations when they are not that severe.

MacArthur elaborates, revisiting the second half of Hebrews 11:

11:37, “They were stoned; they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy): they wandered in deserts, in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” The Holy Spirit has already shown them the great heroes of the faith. Great men and great women, of years past, lived amidst terrible suffering, terrible affliction, excruciating pain, and faced it victoriously because they faced it – watch this – with the right attitude. With the right attitude.

Now, having shown this at the end of chapter 11, that there were some who faced it with the right attitude, He then calls upon the Hebrews to do the same. And He says to them in verse 1 of chapter 12, “Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” – in other words, so many people to testify of the victory of faith over adversity – “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Listen we have enough people to prove to us that faith endures, that faith is victorious, that suffering may come, and suffering may go, but there’s still victory. We have enough witnesses to confirm that; let’s get in the race and let’s run it with the same endurance that they ran it with.

And then He gives the key to running it the right way. Verse 2, “Looking unto Jesus.” Looking unto Jesus.

The author reiterates this by telling them they were not in danger at that point of ‘shedding blood’ for their faith (verse 4). MacArthur says this means they needed to look at the example of Jesus:

Verse 3 and 4, “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be weary and faint in your minds.” You think you’ve got troubles, look at Jesus. “You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” None of you have died for the sins of the world yet. None of you know what it is to be absolutely pure, pristine to the very core, without a possibility of defilement, and then to have poured out on you all the sins of all the ages. You don’t know anything about that. Don’t cry about your troubles; look at Jesus. He endured, and His was victory.

And so, already, you see, He begins to move into the subject of suffering and how to handle it. Jesus suffered far beyond what we will ever suffer, and He endured. And you and I can endure as the Old Testament saints did, as we look at Jesus. Every Christian needs to remember that life is a marathon. The Christian life is a marathon, and there are obstacles all along the course. It’s like the 3,000-meter steeplechase. There are water hazards, and there are hurdles, and we have to go over. It’s not just flat ground. And we must face it, and we must run it with endurance.

Then the author addresses the subject of divine discipline (verses 5 and 6), citing Job 5:17

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;
    therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.

Psalm 94:12

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
    and whom you teach out of your law,

… and Psalm 119:67:

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.

The author then says that God disciplines us because we are His children (verse 7). If He did not discipline us, it would show that He does not love us as His own.

MacArthur explains that discipline — ‘chastisement’ in some translations — does not mean punishment, but, rather, refinement:

Now, to begin with, we’ve got to understand some introductory things. Here we go. There is a word that repeats itself in the passage. It is the word “chastening,” “chastising,” “chastisement.” You see, chastening in verse 5; you see chastening in verse 6 – chasteneth in verse 6; chastening in verse 7; chastisement in verse 8; chastened in verse 10; chastening in verse 11. You get the idea that’s an important word. You’re right.

What does the word “chastening” mean? Well, most people think it means God’s browbeating us or punishing us for sin. That’s not what it means at all. The word “chastening” comes from a Greek word, a Greek verb – really, the noun form is paideia, and paideia has to do with children. It is the word that means to train and educate your children. Get that. The word should not really be translated chastisement; it should be translated discipline. Discipline. I think the New American Standard does translate it discipline. But the word means simply a very broad term; it speaks of whatever – now watch this – of whatever adults use toward their children to cultivate their souls, to correct their mistakes, to curb their passions that they might mature in the most positive, effective, mature, disciplined way. It is a very broad word. It speaks of instruction that will increase virtue. It’s not just punishment. That – if it was only punishment, it would be a different word. It is – it is instruction through discipline. It does not have only the idea of punishment in it. Punishment is part of discipline, isn’t it? But that’s not all of it. But it has the idea of corrective measures and preventative measures that bring up a child in the right path. And the word is used repeatedly to speak of a parent working with his children.

So, what we’re talking about tonight is not God punishing the Christian; it is God disciplining the Christian into maturity. And so, we’ve entitled our study, “The Discipline of God.” And the figure changes here in chapter 12 from a race to a family: a loving Father disciplining his beloved children. And the obstacles in the race are now the disciplines of the Father training His children.

Did we — will we — ever suffer as God’s only begotten Son Jesus did? No, never. He endured the greatest suffering in the world — for our sins. He took our punishment for us.

Therefore, we will never have to endure that same pain, the same torture or the same humiliation. That isn’t to say that people aren’t dying viciously in attacks on their homes or churches or in prisons under dictatorial regimes, but it will never match what Jesus endured for His father for our sakes.

MacArthur explains:

Christ has already borne the full punishment of God. Right? And God will never exact double payment for the same sins. So, the punishment end is finished in terms of punishment as regards guilt for sin. John said, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” He completely bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Neither the justice of God nor the love of God would ever permit God to exact payment for what Christ has already paid in full. Okay? So, in no way does a Christian suffer the punishment that redeems him from sin. That’s already been done.

However, God will bring corrective action our way because we are His children. He wants to direct us from sin to holiness:

Now, mark this, friends. Mark this, and mark it well, the difference between that kind of punishment – listen – and discipline lies not in the nature of the pain, but in the purpose of the pain. You see? In other words, the suffering of an unbeliever and the suffering of a believer may not be too much different. Both can get cancer. Both can have loved ones that die. Both can lose their jobs. But in one sense, a man is being punished for his sins; in the other sense, he is being disciplined by God. The pain may be the same, the purpose is different.

In punishment, God is the judge; in discipline, He is the Father. In punishment, the object is His enemy; in discipline, the object is His child. In punishment, the goal is condemnation; in discipline, the goal is holiness.

I know. It’s hard to grasp. However, think of it as God driving us away from sin, something that could only be relieved through blood sacrifice. That is how much God hates sin.

Matthew Henry has a more encouraging explanation, even though he wrote it centuries before we were born. He tells us of the objective of the author of Hebrews, which was to strive against sin:

1. He owns that they had suffered much, they had been striving to an agony against sin. Here, (1.) The cause of the conflict was sin, and to be engaged against sin is to fight in a good cause, for sin is the worst enemy both to God and man. Our spiritual warfare is both honourable and necessary; for we are only defending ourselves against that which would destroy us, if it should get the victory over us; we fight for ourselves, for our lives, and therefore ought to be patient and resolute. (2.) Every Christian is enlisted under Christ’s banner, to strive against sin, against sinful doctrines, sinful practices, and sinful habits and customs, both in himself and in others.

2. He puts them in mind that they might have suffered more, that they had not suffered as much as others; for they had not yet resisted unto blood, they had not been called to martyrdom as yet, though they knew not how soon they might be. Learn here, (1.) Our Lord Jesus, the captain of our salvation, does not call his people out to the hardest trials at first, but wisely trains them up by less sufferings to be prepared for greater. He will not put new wine into weak vessels, he is the gentle shepherd, who will not overdrive the young ones of the flock. (2.) It becomes Christians to take notice of the gentleness of Christ in accommodating their trial to their strength. They should not magnify their afflictions, but should take notice of the mercy that is mixed with them, and should pity those who are called to the fiery trials to resist to blood; not to shed the blood of their enemies, but to seal their testimony with their own blood. (3.) Christians should be ashamed to faint under less trials, when they see others bear up under greater, and do not know how soon they may meet with greater themselves. If we have run with the footmen and they have wearied us, how shall we contend with horses? If we be wearied in a land of peace, what shall we do in the swellings of Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5.

II. He argues from the peculiar and gracious nature of those sufferings that befall the people of God. Though their enemies and persecutors may be the instruments of inflicting such sufferings on them, yet they are divine chastisements; their heavenly Father has his hand in all, and his wise end to serve by all; of this he has given them due notice, and they should not forget it, Hebrews 12:5.

If this is still difficult to grasp, think of it as training in sport or in the military. What does the coach or the drill sergeant ask his subordinates to do? Try harder, work harder, get rid of the flaws. Be a better athlete. Be a better soldier. Put up with gradually increased training and, through it, become a professional athlete or a professional soldier.

What are the objectives of training? Perseverance and endurance. We want to win sports matches or athletic competitions. We want to win battles so that we win a war.

Discipline from God works along the same lines. He wants us to be with Him at the end of our Christian race. He’s training us to endure, to persevere — and to be victorious.

The subject continues next week, but if we keep these thoughts in mind, next week’s verses will be easier to understand.

Next time — Hebrews 12:8-11

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.

Hebrews 11:23-28

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

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Last week’s reading discussed the faith of more of the earliest men in the Old Testament: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The reading prior to that discussed the first heroes of faith in Genesis: Abel, Enoch and Noah.

John MacArthur emphasises the choices that each man made. They chose to follow God, difficult and lonely though it was (emphases mine below):

All men make a choice. All Christians live in the process of making choices. Abel chose God’s way, a more excellent sacrifice. His brother didn’t; his brother was cursed. Abel was blessed.

Enoch chose God’s way, to walk with God. The rest of the world didn’t. Noah chose God’s way, to obey God and do what God said. The rest of the world didn’t; they drowned. Abraham chose God’s way, to live a life of faith. The people in whose land he dwelt didn’t, and they were destroyed. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph chose God’s way, to believe God for what they couldn’t see, and in it they conquered death. The heathen refused to believe God, and death conquered them.

MacArthur says that the decisions we make determine not only our temporal life but also our eternal one:

Now, Christian maturity, people – and here’s one angle on a definition of it – Christian maturity is making right decisions. That’s what it is. You can always tell a mature Christian by the decisions that he makes. And you can always tell an immature Christian by the decision that he makes. He makes wrong ones.

I’ll put it another way. Holiness is making right decisions. Carnality is making wrong ones. All of life is decisions, and all of the Christian life is decisions. And really, your Christian life rises or falls in terms of maturity and holiness on the basis of the decisions that you make.

When Satan tempts, you either decide to say no or yes. When opportunity calls, and you have a time when you can communicate some – to somebody the truth of Jesus Christ, you either take it or you don’t. Everything is decision. The time comes for you, and you have a few spare moments you might spend reading the Bible, you make a decision. You either read the Bible or you don’t. You get up on Sunday morning, you have an opportunity to come to a seminar class, study the Bible, you make a decision. Either you get up or you don’t.

And invariably, sooner or later, it’s going to touch your whole Christian life the decisions that you make. In business you have a decision. You have an opportunity to make a lot of money or to do what’s right. And sometimes you have those kind of decisions, believe me; we all do. Even in the ministry we do – not usually related to making a lot of money, but situations that could be beneficial to us, or we do what’s right. And we either grab that opportunity for the glory of God, or we lose it.

The author of Hebrews is impressing upon his audience the faith of these men who never saw the fulfilment of God’s plan in Jesus Christ. Yet, they believed that God had a greater promise — the Messiah — for mankind, even if they were centuries away from it. Yet, they believed God was their Father and they were determined to believe that obeying Him was the right and wise thing to do. They believed that God would take care of them.

The Hebrews, on the other hand, were living in the years after Christ’s ascension, His return to Heaven. Some had converted to Christianity and experienced all manner of hardship because of it. They wanted to return to the comfort of Judaism for a quiet life. Other Hebrews knew the story of the Good News but were reluctant to commit themselves to Christ.

The author is telling them how blessed they are to have lived in the era after Christ fulfilled the law through His death and resurrection. He is trying to encourage them to gratefully accept — and believe — that Jesus’s time on Earth was the ultimate fulfilment of God’s plan for mankind.

The author of Hebrews moves on to the life of Moses, the iconic figure for the Hebrews. He begins by saying that Moses’s parents were not afraid of Pharaoh’s edict to kill every first born of the Israelites (verse 23), which was a form of genocide.

Matthew Henry points out that they, too, had faith in God:

They were not afraid of the king’s commandment, Exodus 1:22. That was a wicked and a cruel edict, that all the males of the Israelites should be destroyed in their infancy, and so the name of Israel must be destroyed out of the earth. But they did not so fear as presently to give up their child; they considered that, if none of the males were preserved, there would be an end and utter ruin of the church of God and the true religion, and that though in their present state of servitude and oppression one would praise the dead rather than the living, yet they believed that God would preserve his people, and that the time was coming when it would be worth while for an Israelite to live. Some must hazard their own lives to preserve their children, and they were resolved to do it; they knew the king’s commandment was evil in itself, contrary to the laws of God and nature, and therefore of no authority nor obligation. Faith is a great preservative against the sinful slavish fear of men, as it sets God before the soul, and shows the vanity of the creature and its subordination to the will and power of God.

Moses’s mother, as we all know, hid him for three months until she put him in a little rounded boat made of bulrushes — papyrus reeds — and sent him down the river (Exodus 2:2-3).

Pharoah’s daughter was barren, as Henry tells us. She was his only child. Moses, whom she adopted, was her only child:

Pharaoh’s daughter is said to have been his only child, and was herself childless; and having found Moses, and saved him as she did, she resolved to take him and bring him up as her son; and so he stood fair to be in time king of Egypt, and he might thereby have been serviceable to Israel. He owed his life to this princess

MacArthur describes Moses’s early life:

And so, Moses had grown up in the society of Egypt, the wealthiest, most advanced civilization in that part of the world. And to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter meant technically that you were the prince, and in a technical sense had the right some day to even rule in the land. Boy, you didn’t get any higher. The greatest ruler in the world was the pharaoh. And Moses was in line.

Yet, in his adulthood, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and preferred to endure the sufferings of his fellow Israelites (verse 24).

This was because Moses’s mother, Jochebed, was her son’s wetnurse and was able to raise him as her own son. Therefore, he learned about God and His love of Israel which included His promise of a Messiah for them:

Now, go to Exodus chapter 2, and let’s look at the story and just pick up a few points of interest. Exodus chapter 2 verse 5, “Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags” – reeds – “She sent her maid to fetch it.

“When she had opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the babe wept.” Par for the course. “And she had compassion on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’” Here she discovers little Moses.

Verse 7, “Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and’” – isn’t it interesting that the little baby’s sister has run along the river to make sure that little Moses was going to be okay? Miriam. So, when she – verse 7, “Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?’” She knew just the one.

“And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ And the maid went and called the child’s mother.” Jochebed. “And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, ‘Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.’ And the woman took the child and nursed him.” That’s quite a recovery process that God brought about, wasn’t it? Just fantastic.

Now, it says there – and this is the point that I want to pull out of here – “‘Take this child away and nurse it for me.’” Jochebed took the child and weaned the child. There’s a possibility that this was a three-year period, according to some. Some scholars feel that it was as many as 12 years that she kept Moses in her own home. And during that time, he would receive the full training of the Jewish home. He would be instilled and engrained with the Messianic hope. I kind of lean toward more than three years. Somewhere maybe between 3 and 12, long enough so that they could have taught him Messianic truth. Long enough so that he would have the great promise of Abraham that had been reiterated to Isaac, Jacob and Joseph reiterated to him so that he knew what God had planned for His people, because it’s apparent later on that he did know it. So, however long he stayed, however many years Jochebed was able to raise her own son, it was long enough to instill him with the great truths that were Israel’s promises from God that they not only would leave Egypt, but that God had promised them a great deliverer some day, and that he knew well the great Abrahamic covenant of a great nation, a great seed, and through them the world would be blessed, and the land would belong to them. And all of this undoubtedly was drilled into little Moses.

But after the training period was over, he rejoined the royal court. And when he rejoined the royal court, he was in the position as the prince of Egypt. He was in the position to receive everything that Egypt had to offer. You couldn’t get any higher than that unless you were the Pharaoh himself. The name given to him was Moshe. It means “because I drew him out of water.”

Moses had everything at his disposal, including an excellent education as well as rubbing shoulders with the great and the good.

MacArthur says that Moses’s education fit into God’s plan:

The formal education of Egypt, which included the reading and the writing of hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts, the copying of texts, the language of Canaan – undoubtedly he learned several languages. All of this was refining his God-given ability to be a leader and to write the Pentateuch, which he wrote the first five books of the Bible. All of this education went together to make him God’s man. Forty years in Egypt, God trained him and made him something. Then 40 years in the desert, He broke him back to nothing. Then for 40 years He used him.

Moses chose to be part of the persecution of the Israelites, rather than the easy life of ‘sin’ (verse 25).

MacArthur elaborates:

Now our text here tells us, in Hebrews 11, what he did with the honor of the palace. And in simple words, he chucked the whole thing. I love it. What it says is this, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years” – what’s the next word? – “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” Moses did not seek the world’s prestige. He sought that which was the will of God. He knew God had a better kingdom. He knew God had a better reward. Prestige and honor and fame is a powerful thing. Most people live all their lives dreaming about attaining it. You know that? Sure we do. We put ourselves in the position of famous people. Most people live trying to get up higher on the social ladder. Moses gave it all up.

That happened when Moses turned 40. The author of Hebrews said that Moses looked towards his eternal reward, not an earthly one (verse 26).

Henry analyses what ‘the reproach of Christ’ in that verse means:

See how Moses weighed matters: in one scale he put the worst of religion–the reproaches of Christ, in the other scale the best of the world–the treasures of Egypt; and in his judgment, directed by faith, the worst of religion weighed down the best of the world. The reproaches of the church of God are the reproaches of Christ, who is, and has ever been, the head of the church. Now here Moses conquered the riches of the world, as before he had conquered its honours and pleasures. God’s people are, and always have been, a reproached people. Christ accounts himself reproached in their reproaches; and, while he thus interests himself in their reproaches, they become riches, and greater riches than the treasures of the richest empire in the world; for Christ will reward them with a crown of glory that fades not away. Faith discerns this, and determines and acts accordingly.

Therefore, he left Egypt, unafraid of Pharaoh because faith in the unseen — God — drove that decision (verse 27).

MacArthur explains:

All through those 40 years, he’d never wavered, apparently, in his faith in God. For 40 years he had enjoyed the privileges, the prestige, the status, the honors of a prince in Egypt with all the royal rigmarole that went with it. But the time came to face the biggest decision of his life. And it’s very apparent that God came to him, and God spoke to him somehow. God indicated to him that he wanted him to go back to his people Israel and lead them out to the Promised Land. He had to make a choice whether to throw aside everything that he had in the palace and go live with slaves, or to forget the call of God and grab what he had.

In Acts chapter 7, again going back to Stephen’s sermon which deals so interestingly with the character of Moses, just pulling out a couple of things, it says in verse 23 of Acts 7, “And when he was full 40 years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian” – he killed him – “for he supposed his brethren would have understood” – watch – “how that God, by his hand would deliver them. But they understood not.”

You see, he knew that God had already called him to be the deliverer. And he thought, “If I go in there and show that to them, and I’ll smite this Egyptian, I’ll kill him, that’ll prove to them whose side I’m on. They’ll know that I’m to be their deliverer,” but they didn’t buy it. They didn’t buy it, but he knew what God wanted out of him.

When it came time for the great Exodus from Egypt, Moses and the faithful Israelites followed the command to daub their front doors with lamb’s blood so that their first-born children would be saved (verse 28). That was the first Passover. Henry reminds us that while the first-born among the Israelites were saved, their Egyptian counterparts were not:

The passover was one of the most solemn institutions of the Old Testament, and a very significant type of Christ. The occasion of its first observance was extraordinary: it was in the same night that God slew the first-born of the Egyptians; but, though the Israelites lived among them, the destroying angel passed over their houses, and spared them and theirs. Now, to entitle them to this distinguishing favour, and to mark them out for it, a lamb must be slain; the blood of it must be sprinkled with a bunch of hyssop upon the lintel of the door, and on the two side-posts; the flesh of the lamb must be roasted with fire; and it must be all of it eaten that very night with bitter herbs, in a travelling posture, their loins girt, their shoes on their feet, and their staff in their hand. This was accordingly done, and the destroying angel passed over them, and slew the first-born of the Egyptians. This opened a way for the return of Abraham’s posterity into the land of promise.

Also note the significance of the sacrificial lamb and Christ. Henry’s analysis makes this lesson come alive for us:

The accommodation of this type is not difficult. (1.) Christ is that Lamb, he is our Passover, he was sacrificed for us. (2.) His blood must be sprinkled; it must be applied to those who have the saving benefit of it. (3.) It is applied effectually only to the Israelites, the chosen people of God. (4.) It is not owing to our inherent righteousness or best performances that we are saved from the wrath of God, but to the blood of Christ and his imputed righteousness. If any of the families of Israel had neglected the sprinkling of this blood upon their doors, though they should have spent all the night in prayer, the destroying angel would have broken in upon them, and slain their first-born. (5.) Wherever this blood is applied, the soul receives a whole Christ by faith, and lives upon him. (6.) This true faith makes sin bitter to the soul, even while it receives the pardon and atonement. (7.) All our spiritual privileges on earth should quicken us to set out early, and get forward, in our way to heaven. (8.) Those who have been marked out must ever remember and acknowledge free and distinguishing grace.

The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wanted his audience to understand those same points through faith.

The penultimate set of verses in Hebrews 11 concerns the miracles but also the persecution that God’s people of the Old Testament endured.

The chapter ends with a final message on faith:

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Those heroes — and heroines — of faith did not see the Messiah, yet they fervently believed that God, in His enduring love, would send Him to us, which He did at the appointed time, according to His plan.

Next time — Hebrews 12:4-7

In my new series ‘What’s on Episcopal priests’ minds’, here’s a good tweet on eschatology: the theological view of the end of the world, or, in Christian parlance, Christ’s Second Coming.

This comes from the Revd J Wesley Evans, OPA, an Anglo-Catholic based in Texas who belongs to the Anglican Order of Preachers. The Order of Preachers — O.P. — is better known as the Dominicans.

Two weeks ago, he lamented that the Episcopal Church does not preach enough about eschatology. I wholeheartedly agree, for all the reasons he states:

Sadly, a reply he received displays all the wrong thinking of the Episcopal Church and, in many respects, the Anglican Communion in Western countries. Contrary to what the Revd Hill says, eschatology should not be restricted to the season of Advent alone:

So, how does one preach about eschatology?

Here is one useful and rather timely example, given that the Super Bowl took place on February 2, 2020. This comes from a young deacon who is preparing to be ordained to the priesthood (i.e. ‘transitional’). The Revd AD Armond works for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Lousiana as a school chaplain:

If one wanted to preach on eschatology more often, however, how would one do it?

Fr Evans offers his thoughts on preaching in general. There is a fine line to be struck between giving congregants a sense of complacency on the one hand and, on the other, despair.

There’s another important message in the first tweet. God makes no promises regarding our health (N.B.) or wealth:

That last tweet says it all concerning ‘the virtue of Faith’.

One wonders how many other clergy are that concerned about their Sunday sermons. Would that they all were that intent on preaching about our spiritual health — and faith.

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 (as cited below).

Hebrews 11:17-22

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

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Last week’s post was about the first of the incidences of faith in the Old Testament, involving the stories of Abel, Enoch and Noah. Their belief in God led, respectively, to an obedient offering, a holy life and devoting one’s adult life to building an ark away from any coastline.

In the next set of verses, the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, returns to the life of Abraham — our father in faith — who had a stunning belief in God and an startling unquestioning obedience to Him, considering that he had lived most of his life as a pagan.

After a life of childlessness with his barren wife Sarah, she, being beyond childbearing age nonetheless, through the blessings of God, bore a son, Isaac.

Then God tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to sacrifice his long-awaited heir (verse 17), whom he loved very much. This would be a highly fraught experience for any parent, especially if the parent had received word directly from God that it would be through that heir that all his offering shall be named (verse 18, Genesis 21:12).

Matthew Henry’s commentary lays out the complexity of the situation (emphases mine):

some things that very much added to the greatness of this trial. (1.) He was put upon it after he had received the promises, that this Isaac should build up his family, that in him his seed should be called (Hebrews 11:18), and that he should be one of the progenitors of the Messiah, and all nations blessed in him; so that, in being called to offer up his Isaac, he seemed to be called to destroy and cut off his own family, to cancel the promises of God, to prevent the coming of Christ, to destroy the whole world, to sacrifice his own soul and his hopes of salvation, and to cut off the church of God at one blow: a most terrible trial! (2.) That this Isaac was his only-begotten son by his wife Sarah, the only one he was to have by her, and the only one that was to be the child and heir of the promise. Ishmael was to be put off with earthly greatness. The promise of a posterity, and of the Messiah, must either be fulfilled by means of this son or not at all; so that, besides his most tender affection to this his son, all his expectations were bound up in him, and, if he perished, must perish with him. If Abraham had ever so many sons, this was the only son who could convey to all nations the promised blessing. A son for whom he waited so long, whom he received in so extraordinary a manner, upon whom his heart was set–to have this son offered up as a sacrifice, and that by his own hand; it was a trial that would have overset the firmest and the strongest mind that ever informed a human body.

This extraordinary episode involving Abraham and Isaac is in Genesis 22:1-18. Note that, interestingly, Abraham believed God would resurrect Isaac (Hebrews 11:19):

The Sacrifice of Isaac

22 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy[a] will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”;[b] as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”[c]

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his[d] enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

The author of Hebrews says that Isaac was, ‘figuratively speaking’, returned to Abraham from the dead (verse 19), because Abraham came that close to obeying God’s command.

Both commentators say that Isaac was a type of Christ, prefiguring, in a sense, His necessary, all-sufficient human sacrifice for sin. John MacArthur tells us:

… he took him up there, raised the knife, and at the right moment, he heard this noise over in a bush. He looked over there, and God had the right animal waiting. The angel of the Lord stopped his arm. He sacrificed the ram. And Isaac only became just a figure. It says, “Which also he received him in a figure.” This is a picture of the resurrection of Christ: the death and resurrection. He didn’t really die and rise, so, it’s not a legitimate type, but it’s kind of a picture of the death and resurrection of Christ.

The author then tells us that Isaac ‘invoked blessings on’ his two sons, Jacob and Esau (verse 20). John MacArthur has a lengthy and excellent commentary on all three men.

Henry explains the meaning of that verse:

The actings of his faith: He blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. He blessed them; that is, he resigned them up to God in covenant; he recommended God and religion to them; he prayed for them, and prophesied concerning them, what would be the condition, and the condition of their descendants: we have the account of this in Genesis 27:1-46.

The next two verses illustrate faith at the time of death. I was delighted to see that MacArthur cited Henry at the beginning of his sermon on these verses:

Matthew Henry said, “Though the grace of faith is of universal use throughout the Christian’s life, yet it is especially so when we come to die. Faith has its great work to do at the very last, to help believers to finish well; to die to the Lord so as to honor Him by patience, hope, and joy so as to leave a witness behind them of the truth of God’s Word and the excellency of His ways.”

Jacob, Isaac’s blessed son, whom God renamed Israel (Genesis 35:10), blessed the twelve sons of his favoured son Joseph at the end of his life; he leant on his staff as he did so (verse 21), symbolising that he owed his blessings to God, upon whom he depended, as Henry explains:

He showed thereby his dependence upon God, and testified his condition here as a pilgrim with his staff, and his weariness of the world, and willingness to be at rest.

When Jacob’s son Joseph — he of the amazing technicolour dreamcoat — died, he did not want to be buried permanently in Egypt, where he had been highly successful in Pharaoh’s employ, but rather in Canaan, the land of God’s promise (verse 22). Joseph’s faith was profound.

MacArthur summarises Joseph’s faith, particularly at the end of his life:

This is interesting. Joseph is dying here, and, of course, at this point he’s spent the great portion of his life in Egypt. And he’s dying, and he’s going to have to be buried there, but he says, “‘Now, I want to tell you people about the departing of the children of Israel’” – they’re going back to the Promised Land – “‘and I want to make sure you take my bones when you go.’” Now, that’s faith.

He was in Egypt. You know that it had been 200 years since the promise that God was going to do this? Two hundred years since the promise. The promise recorded in Genesis 15 of the possession of the land. Two hundred years, and they’d never been there yet. And he says, “You guys are going to be going back pretty soon. Will you pack up my bones and take them when you go?” That’s faith. How did he know that? He knew it because he believed God’s promise. His faith was strong.

In [Genesis] chapter 50, verse 24, “Joseph said to his brethren, ‘I die, and God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land’” – isn’t that good? He believed God. God had said there as a land, and he never saw it, but he believed it would come. “‘God will bring you out of this land unto the land which he swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bone from here. So, Joseph died, being 110 years old. And they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in” – where? – “in Egypt.” He died in faith.

You say, “Well, what ever happened? Did they ever get his bones over there?”

Sure they did. You know, that’s the end of Genesis and – bang – as you begin Exodus they move out. In chapter 13 … verse 19 … “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him” – when Moses took off for the land – “for he had solemnly sworn the children of Israel saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones away from here.’” So, when they packed off in the Exodus, they packed up … old Joseph, what was left of him, and took him with them.

To many of us, these men are but historical characters in the history of God’s people. However, they believed not only in God but in the fulfilment of promises they themselves never saw. Generations of their descendants did not see those promises fulfilled, either. Yet, they continued to believe.

What the author of Hebrews was doing here is to encourage his audience to understand that they should put their faith in God with regard to the New Covenant with His Son Jesus Christ.

As Jesus had already fulfilled prophecy through the Crucifixion and Resurrection, it should have been that much easier for the Hebrews to believe that He is the Messiah. Yet, they continued to waver.

May we, if ever in doubt, return to the example of these earliest paragons of faith and believe. We know about that blessed history of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. There is no reason at all to doubt.

Next time — Hebrews 11:23-28

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