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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 6:22-23

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

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The text of Matthew 5 – 7 comprises the whole of the Sermon on the Mount.

The first 18 verses of Matthew 6 address the way we are to worship and practice our religion. Our Lord said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

He told us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer and how to fast:

17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)

The second half of the chapter records Jesus’s instruction about treasure and anxiety as to our daily needs. It ends as follows:

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles [heathens] seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  (Matthew 6:31-34)

With regard to the verses on treasure, they begin with:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

and end as follows:

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

Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses lie between the two.

Our Lord told His audience that the eye illuminates and informs the state of the body (verse 22). A healthy eye indicates a healthy body. In the KJV, the word ‘single’ is used for ‘healthy’. ‘Single’ does not mean one-eyed, it means a fully working, normal eye.

Matthew Henry explains (emphases in bold mine):

now if this eye be single, if it make a true and right judgment, and discern things that differ, especially in the great concern of laying up the treasure so as to choose aright in that, it will rightly guide the affections and actions, which will all be full of the light of grace and comfort but if this be evil and corrupt, and instead of leading the inferior powers, is led, and bribed, and biassed by them, if this be erroneous and misinformed, the heart and life must needs be full of darkness, and the whole conversation corrupt.

How we view the world informs our hearts and our minds.

On the other hand, if our eye is unhealthy, we do not understand the world or God’s purpose properly (verse 23). John MacArthur says it is a metaphor for spiritual illness:

if your eye is dark it is black, there’s no light that comes in you perceive nothing. And that’s the way it is with the heart, if your heart is toward God it lights your entire spiritual being, if your heart is toward the material things, toward the treasure of the world the blinds come down of your spiritual perception and you do not see, spiritually as you ought. Tremendous principle. He takes a physical illustration and He says that the eye is like a window, if that window is clean and clear the light floods the body, if the window is blacked out no light enters. This is a spiritual metaphor.

In this, as in so many other parts of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord is criticising the Pharisees’ practices. MacArthur tells us:

Now for the Pharisees, their heart was in the earth. They were phonies everyway you cut it, their morality was totally external, that’s what chapter 5 was saying. Their humility was nonexistent, instead of being salt and light they were part of the corruption and and the darkness. Instead of believing in the law of God they defied the law of God and substituted for it their own tradition. Instead of having a really internal heart set of principles they had nothing but an external code of sort of semi-spiritual ethics. Instead of having genuine worship they had a false standard and it was pure hypocrisy. Everything about them was outside, external, self-centered, and self‑motivated. And in contrast to that the Lord is saying, you must have a right heart. That’s why in chapter 5 verse 20 the key verse in all the Sermon on the Mount He says, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.'” Theirs is an external righteousness without a right heart, and what I want is a right heart. So your heart and your treasure go together and both need to be toward heaven. What our Lord is speaking of here is a single minded devotion to God and His causes that is undistracted by the world.

MacArthur says that Jesus gives us three messages about treasure.

The first concerns two treasuries. In this case, we are to resist the urge to pile up possessions which can deteriorate or be stolen. We should be providing for ourselves, our families and the future in self-sufficiency as well as exercising charity towards God’s people:

It is not wrong to accumulate money, it is not wrong to accumulate possessions which are then invested in divine causes and in God’s purposes, and God’s purposes are to care for our family and to care for our extended family in the church and to care for even those who are not of the family of God but have need, and to care for the causes of God around the world, and to invest in souls, those things are needful uses of what God gives us. But to stockpile selfishly accumulating with greed and covetousness, piles and piles of things treasuring up for ourselves on earth these commodities is that which our Lord says not to do

The second — today’s verses — is two visions: one with light or one with darkness. The word ‘single’ (‘healthy’) comes from the Greek word haplous, which means generous. We have seen charity appeals which read, ‘Please give generously’. We have also seen instructions for topical creams which say, ‘Apply liberally’. MacArthur unpacks ‘single’ for us:

It is a word that means generous or liberal. He is saying then, if your eye or your heart, because the eye is illustrating the heart, if your heart is generous your whole spiritual life will be flooded with spiritual understanding ... 

Verse 23, “If your eye is evil, your whole body’s full of darkness.” And there you’re introduced to the evil eye, you’ve heard that phrase, haven’t you? Gave ’em an evil eye.

You know what the evil eye is? That’s a Jewish colloquialism, to mean grudgingly. For example in Deuteronomy 15:9 it talks about when you have a slave and it’s coming to the Jubilee Year and he is to be freed, that you have an evil eye toward him. That is you are ungenerous, stingy and you grudge him that freedom. In Proverbs 23:6 it says, “Eat not the bread of him who has an evil eye.”

The third involves the impossibility of serving two masters. ‘Serve’ in this context comes from the Greek doulos, implying slavery. Yes, we can work two jobs with no problem. However, in our Lord’s time, everyone understood the concept of bond slaves — bondservants — who were bound to one master. They could work for no other:

To be a bond slave, to be the property of a master was to be constantly, totally, entirely, 100% devoted to obedience to that one master, it would be utterly impossible to express that to two different masters.

That’s the illustration used in Romans 6 when it says, “Now that we have come to Christ, we must yield ourselves servants to him.” Because we are His slaves, we are no longer the slave of sin. God can only be served beloved with entire and exclusive devotion, He can only be served with single mindedness and if you try to split it with money you will either hate one or the other.

To conclude on the eye, Henry offers this analysis:

The eye, that is, the aims and intentions by the eye we set our end before us, the mark we shoot at, the place we go to, we keep that in view, and direct our motion accordingly in every thing we do in religion there is something or other that we have in our eye now if our eye be single, if we aim honestly, fix right ends, and move rightly towards them, if we aim purely and only at the glory of God, seek his honor and favour, and direct all entirely to him, then the eye is single[.] Paul’s was so when he said, To me to live is Christ and if we be right here, the whole body will be full of light, all the actions will be regular and gracious, pleasing to God and comfortable to ourselves but if this eye be evil, if, instead of aiming only at the glory of God, and our acceptance with him, we look aside at the applause of men, and while we profess to honour God, contrive to honour ourselves, and seek our own things under colour of seeking the things of Christ, this spoils all, the whole conversation will be perverse and unsteady, and the foundations being thus out of course, there can be nothing but confusion and every evil work in the superstructure … The hypocrite soars like the kite [bird], with his eye upon the prey below, which he is ready to come down to when he has a fair opportunity the true Christian soars like the lark, higher and higher, forgetting the things that are beneath.

However, the metaphor of bad eyesight — poor spirituality — affects not only those accumulating material goods but those who are eager to see them stolen or redistributed. To the latter, materialism is as all-consuming as it is to owner of ostentatious bling. Coveting others’ goods violates the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17):

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Next time: Matthew 7:1-6

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 King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 6:7-15

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

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I’m using the King James Version today because the prose is more traditional and beautiful than the modern translations of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Sermon on the Mount continues. It encompasses Matthew 5 through Matthew 7.

Luke 11 also features the Lord’s Prayer but in a different context. In Luke’s account, the disciples saw Jesus praying and one of them requested (Luke 11:1):

Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.

The disciple was referring to John the Baptist.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus gave instructions to His audience, the disciples — and us — on how to pray.

He tells us not to use the ‘vain repetitions’ of the pagans (verse 7). Modern translations use the word ‘Gentile’. Essentially, the connotation means non-Jew.

Matthew Henry recalls that the Old Testament recounts pagan prayers:

Baal’s priests were hard at it from morning till almost night with their vain repetitions O Baal, hear us O Baal, hear us and vain petitions they were …

Lip-labour in prayer, though ever so well laboured, if that be all, is but lost labour.

John MacArthur cites the pagans of the ancient world:

in the New Testament it says in Acts 19 that for two hours the multitudes stood in theater and screamed “great is Diana of Ephesians, great is Diana of Ephesians, great is Diana of Ephesians.”  They kept saying it over and over for two solid hours. 

Our Lord tells us we have no need to engage in such lost labour, because God our Father knows our needs (verse 8).

Jesus gives the crowd an ancient Jewish prayer, to which He adds only one new line. Henry explains (emphases mine):

Most of the petitions in the Lord’s prayer had been commonly used by the Jews in their devotions, or words to the same effect: but that clause in the fifth petition, As we forgive our debtors, was perfectly new, and therefore our Saviour here shows for what reason he added it, not with any personal reflection upon the peevishness, litigiousness, and ill nature of the men of that generation, though there was cause enough for it, but only from the necessity and importance of the thing itself. God, in forgiving us, has a peculiar respect to our forgiving those that have injured us and therefore, when we pray for pardon, we must mention our making conscience of that duty, not only to remind ourselves of it, but to bind ourselves to it.

Why did our Lord repeat a prayer the Jews already knew?

So many were the corruptions that had crept into this duty of prayer among the Jews, that Christ saw it needful to give a new directory for prayer, to show his disciples what must ordinarily be the matter and method of their prayer, which he gives in words that may very well be used as a form as the summary or contents of the several particulars of our prayers.

We do not need to rely solely on what Christians call the Lord’s Prayer, however, as Jesus presents it, it is a perfect prayer for the following reasons.

I am giving but brief extracts from Henry’s commentary below, which is an excellent exposition of what is the world’s best known prayer. I recommend reading it in full.

In verse 9, Jesus tells us how to begin. ‘Our’, not ‘my’, Father is said because we are acknowledging that God created not only us as individuals, but all of humanity. We are bound together in this commonality:

Intimating, that we must pray, not only alone and for ourselves, but with and for others for we are members one of another, and are called into fellowship with each other.

The word ‘hallowed’ is part of the prayer because of God’s infinite greatness, holiness and majesty:

We give glory to God it may be taken not as a petition, but as an adoration as that, the Lord be magnified, or glorified, for God’s holiness is the greatness and glory of all his perfections. We must begin our prayers with praising God, and it is very fit he should be first served, and that we should give glory to God, before we expect to receive mercy and grace from him. Let him have praise of his perfections, and then let us have the benefit of them.

We then acknowledge our present, temporal location, which we hope improves through our obedience to God’s will, as well as His heavenly kingdom (verse 10):

that it might be done on earth, in this place of our trial and probation (where our work must be done, or it never will be done), as it is done in heaven, that place of rest and joy. We pray that earth may be made more like heaven by the observance of God’s will (this earth, which, through the prevalency of Satan’s will, has become so near akin to hell), and that saints may be made more like the holy angels in their devotion and obedience. We are on earth, blessed be God, not yet under the earth we pray for the living only, not for the dead that have gone down into silence.

We ask for provision of our daily needs — ‘bread’ (verse 11). This is a short yet significant petition because:

Every word here has a lesson in it: (1.) We ask for bread that teaches us sobriety and temperance we ask for bread, not dainties, not superfluities[,] that which is wholesome, though it be not nice. (2.) We ask for our bread that teaches us honesty and industry: we do not ask for the bread out of other people’s mouths, not the bread of deceit (Proverbs 20:17), not the bread of idleness (Proverbs 31:27), but the bread honestly gotten. (3.) We ask for our daily bread which teaches us not to take thought for the morrow (Matthew 6:34), but constantly to depend upon divine Providence, as those that live from hand to mouth. (4.) We beg of God to give it us, not sell it us, nor lend it us, but give it. The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread, (5.) We pray, “Give it to us not to me only, but to others in common with me.” This teaches us charity, and a compassionate concern for the poor and needy. It intimates also, that we ought to pray with our families we and our households eat together, and therefore ought to pray together. (6.) We pray that God would give us this day which teaches us to renew the desire of our souls toward God, as the wants of our bodies are renewed as duly as the day comes, we must pray to our heavenly Father, and reckon we could as well go a day without meat, as without prayer.

We go on to ask for God’s forgiveness and pray that we forgive each other in the same generous, compassionate manner (verse 12):

This is connected with the former and forgive, intimating, that unless our sins be pardoned, we can have no comfort in life, or the supports of it. Our daily bread does but feed us as lambs for the slaughter, if our sins be not pardoned. It intimates, likewise, that we must pray for daily pardon, as duly as we pray for daily bread ...

Note, Those that come to God for the forgiveness of their sins against him, must make conscience of forgiving those who have offended them, else they curse themselves when they say the Lord’s prayer. Our duty is to forgive our debtors as to debts of money, we must not be rigorous and severe in exacting them from those that cannot pay them without ruining themselves and their families but this means debt of injury[;] our debtors are those that trespass against us, that smite us (Matthew 5:39,40), and in strictness of law, might be prosecuted for it we must forbear, and forgive, and forget the affronts put upon us, and the wrongs done us and this is a moral qualification for pardon and peace

We conclude by asking to be delivered from temptation and sin (verse 13):

Negatively: … It is not as if God tempted any to sin but, “Lord, do not let Satan loose upon us chain up that roaring lion, for he is subtle and spiteful Lord, do not leave us to ourselves (Psalm 19:13), for we are very weak, Lord

Positively: … “Lord, deliver us from the evil of the world, the corruption that is in the world through lust[,] from the evil of every condition in the world[,] from the evil of death from the sting of death, which is sin: deliver us from ourselves, from our own evil hearts: deliver us from evil men, that they may not be a snare to us, nor we a prey to them.”

The King James Version concludes with the Doxology, not in many of the modern translations:

… these are encouraging: “Thine is the kingdom thou hast the government of the world, and the protection of the saints, thy willing subjects in it ” God gives and saves like a king. “Thine is the power, to maintain and support that kingdom, and to make good all thine engagements to thy people.” Thine is the glory, as the end of all that which is given to, and done for, the saints, in answer to their prayers for their praise waiteth for him. This is matter of comfort and holy confidence in prayer.

And, let us not forget ‘Amen':

Lastly, To all this we are taught to affix our Amen, so be it. God’s Amen is a grant his fiat is, it shall be so our Amen is only a summary desire our fiat is, let it be so: it is in the token of our desire and assurance to be heard, that we say Amen. Amen refers to every petition going before, and thus, in compassion to our infirmities, we are taught to knit up the whole in one word, and so to gather up, in the general, what we have lost and let slip in the particulars. It is good to conclude religious duties with some warmth and vigour, that we may go from them with a sweet savour upon our spirits. It was of old the practice of good people to say, Amen, audibly at the end of every prayer, and it is a commendable practice, provided it be done with understanding, as the apostle directs (1 Corinthians 14:16), and uprightly, with life and liveliness, and inward expressions, answerable to that outward expression of desire and confidence.

Our Lord concluded His lesson in prayer with the exhortation to forgive others so that God will show us the same mercy (verse 14), because if we do not forgive others, He will not forgive us (verse 15).

It is worth remembering Matthew 6:6, included in the Lectionary:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

John MacArthur says:

And I believe if you pray in those terms, the end of verse 6 says, “He will reward you.”  He will reward you.  You know, E. L. Moody once said, that he got so many blessings from God that one day he prayed a very short prayer.  This was it, “Stop God, Amen.”  That was it.  Too much, too much.  Maybe that day would come when we might say stop God, because we’re drowning in His blessing if we learn how to pray as Jesus teaches here. 

MacArthur also gives us the origin of the word ‘barbarian':

when the Greeks spoke the Greek word wanted to speak of one who was not cultured, they used the word barbaros because all of the uncultured people with foreign languages were unintelligible to them and it sounded like all they were say was bar, bar, bar, bar, bar, bar.  And so barbaros became the word for barbarian.

Interesting!

Let us pray the Lord’s Prayer with renewed fervour now that we know more about its petitions!

Next time: Matthew 6:22-23

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (Divorce and Remarriage, Parts 1, 2 and 3).

Matthew 5:31-32

Divorce

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

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Matthew 5, 6 and 7 recount Jesus’s entire Sermon on the Mount. We often stop at the Beatitudes, but the three chapters have difficult verses, many of which we ignore in our own notionally Christian lives.

Our Lord’s objective was to pierce the self-righteousness of the Jewish leadership and impress upon those who heard Him preach that the ordinary Jews were not to imitate the hierarchy’s example. They invented a number of get-out clauses for their own sinful convenience.

Last week’s post looked at Matthew 5:25-26, verses which urge us to come to an arrangement with those who accuse us of wrongdoing. Where we can mend the relationship, Jesus urges us to do so rather than risk a judgement by a court — or an eternal one by Him on the Last Day. We are to resist anger, grudges and bitterness.

Today’s passage is preceded by His condemnation of lust and adultery:

Lust

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The message is not so much to remove our right eye or hand — traditionally considered by the Jews to be the most powerful body parts — but to pray for the divine grace and Spirit-inspired fortitude to avoid temptation.

Today’s two verses are found elsewhere in the New Testament. I wrote about Mark 10:10-12 in 2012 and Luke 16:18 in 2014. Both of those posts discuss the rampant divorce, particularly among the Jewish leaders, which had been escalating throughout the Old Testament era to Jesus’s day.

From the beginning, God made a covenant with Israel, the precursor of Christ’s with His Bride, the Church. Nothing could break the Old Covenant, despite God’s punishments of His people; in the end, after repentance, He forgave them and showed them mercy. In the Christian era, despite false teaching and apostasy, nothing shall ultimately come between Christ and the Church.

The covenant started with the creation and union of Adam and Eve. John MacArthur explains how this works in a context of couples, which they then marred with Original Sin, the tensions of which exist today (emphases mine):

Now prior to the fall marriage was pure bliss, the man was the head, the woman was the help meet. The man’s headship was a loving, caring provision of understanding. The woman’s being a help meet was a loving, caring submissiveness to the one who was given as her leader. It was beautiful, her heart was totally devoted to him, his heart was totally devoted to her, and according to Genesis 1:27 and 28, they ruled together, they ruled together. But that ended …

… literally what happened was in the fall man was elevated to rule in the house, to rule in the home. He’d had a soft kind of dominance before, held had a loving, caring approach before but now he is set in a place of ruling with authority. [‘Mashal’] is a different word than the word for rule in Genesis 1:28, completely different word, completely different concept. A new dimension of his rule has come about. The woman then is made immediately subordinate to the man.

People say, oh there’s too much male chauvinism in the world, and they’re exactly right and this is why. Because of the curse and because woman led in the sin God set man over her to control her, to subdue her as it were, to be her head. And frankly without Jesus Christ it can be very abusive, I agree, sinful man has been chauvinistic, I’m the first one to agree, only in Christ, only in the Spirit can a right kind of headship be restored and that’s the meaning of Ephesians chapter 5. Only in Christ, apart from that there will be oppressiveness. On the other hand, man is installed in this case as a ruler and woman, it says, her desire shall be to her husband.

In Moses’s time, adultery began to become a problem. In fact, so much so that he allowed a bill of divorce, which in the Jewish religion is called a get. Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

Laws Concerning Divorce

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

From this, we understand three things: divorce is permitted because of a wife’s  ‘indecency’, remarriage can lead to another divorce and excessive adultery would have led to defiling the land God gave to His chosen people.

Although stoning was allowed and took place in cases of adultery, as time passed, it was done less and less.

A certificate of divorce became the norm. Note that it had to be written out. This was to eliminate impulsive decisions taken in anger. A husband couldn’t tell his wife he was divorcing her, he actually had to be able to write such a statement. Most men could not write in that era and, for this reason, divorces were relatively rare.

On the other hand, the Jewish leaders, being educated, were able to add new meanings to the word ‘indecency’. From an original context of adultery, it came to encompass anything which displeased the husband: his wife’s looks, her ability to cook, her family and so on. Although the leaders presented themselves as following every aspect of the law, they created various means of twisting it to fit their own appetites. By the time our Lord began His ministry, divorces among the Jewish elite were frequent.

Therefore, although Jesus acknowledged that divorce is allowed (verse 25), He said that improper divorce is akin to adultery (verse 26). It may be driven by lust for another, fornication. Ultimately, remarriage often involves marrying a woman to whom a man has no right.

Matthew Henry explains:

He reduced the ordinance of marriage to its primitive institution: They two shall be one flesh, not to be easily separated, and therefore divorce is not to be allowed, except in case of adultery, which breaks the marriage covenant but he that puts away his wife upon any other pretence, causeth her to commit adultery, and him also that shall marry her when she is thus divorced. Note, Those who lead others into temptation to sin, or leave them in it, or expose them to it, make themselves guilty of their sin, and will be accountable for it. This is one way of being partaker with adulterers Psalm 50:18.

Thinking about divorce today, our reasons for undertaking it are similar to the Jewish hierarchy’s, especially the notion of ‘irreconcilable differences’.

MacArthur sums it up this way:

the point that the Lord is making is just know when you go in you’re going in on the right terms with a commitment to stay there. Because divorce proliferates adultery.

Jesus elaborates on this in Matthew 19, which we will look at in due course, as it is also not in the Lectionary. It seems its compilers and editors did not wish to offend our delicate sensibilities. Matthew 19:3-9:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

The message for us is to take marriage seriously. It would be a mistake to marry for sexual attraction alone, although that seems to be an overriding reason for many couples. We need to look at long-term compatibility and pragmatism: cooking, housekeeping, cleanliness, managing money, child-rearing, restraining impulses (anger), avoiding addiction (gambling, drink, drugs) and so on.

The Catholic Church has a lengthy pre-marital course lasting several weeks. This used to be called Pre-Cana and now goes under another name. I knew a couple who attended it in the 1980s. They were shocked at how ill-matched and ill-prepared some of the other couples in their class were. It was not unusual for couples to argue during the courses. Some engagements were broken as issues regarding children, money and gambling came to light. 

I am not sure how strict certain Catholic parishes are on these pre-marital classes now. I know of a couple who were able to claim an excused absence for several of them. After a few years of marriage, they recently divorced. The husband ran off with another woman.

This is only one example of many proving our Lord’s point about divorce.

Regarding the marital covenant and the parallel with God’s covenant with His people, the Old Testament has examples of how serious this is. He will reject our praises and worship. Could this be one reason why our churches are emptying? MacArthur cites Malachi 2:

Judah Profaned the Covenant

10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant[e] of the man who does this, who )brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord‘s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?[f] And what was the one God[g] seeking?[h] Godly offspring. So guard yourselves[i] in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[j] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[k] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

The Book of Hosea tells the story of an adulterous marriage with eventual reconciliation. Hosea 1:2-11:

Hosea’s Wife and Children

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord. So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy,[a] for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People,[b] for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”[c]

10 [d] Yet (P)the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children[e] of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

MacArthur explains:

Hosea is to become a dramatization; he is going to enact in his life a great drama to illustrate great spiritual truth. Now here’s what Hosea was to do, Hosea was to marry a woman, a woman by the name of Gomer, and having married her, discover that she had become a prostitute or a harlot. And in spite of that he was to be faithful to his vow, no matter what the pain, no matter what the unfaithfulness, no matter what the excruciating agony, no matter what the price he was to be faithful to his harlot, prostitute, debauched, vile wife, no matter what she did, why? Because this was a pageant to demonstrate how faithful God would be to His wayward wife, Israel. And it sets for us the standard of relationship in a marriage as it is the image for God’s relationship to His people ...

Now I do not believe for a moment that God forced her into her harlotries to be an illustration. I believe God worked in His sovereignty with her own will. But the heart of the story is that dear Hosea was to be faithful and forgiving no matter what she did. In fact as we go into the story we find out that when she went into harlotry he actually paid her bills, because he felt so bound by the vow he had made when he married her, he followed her around paying her bills.

Ultimately, Gomer failed in her adulterous pursuits, and Hosea persevered in preserving his marriage:

here in a sense is a husband who is chastening and judging all the while and supporting, so that she stays alive.

And you see exactly this in God’s relation to Israel. God on the one hand is judging and chastening and dealing with Israel, on the other hand God is the very life of the nation, right? You look at Israel today, and God is chastening the land of Israel and yet at the same time God is the sustenance of that people. And so Hosea works with this ambivalence, a wife who is a prostitute and a harlot, and he wants so much for her to be judged and he wants so much for her to be condemned in this so she’ll return and yet he, he goes along because of the vow that he has to her as a husband and he makes sure her needs are met. Incredible commitment …

The point is God’s unchanging love for Israel is based on the permanent promise He made which is based upon His character. And so even though Israel became a harlot, God said I’ll bring her back, even though she bore children of harlotry God said I’ll change their names. And so it was that Hosea was to live the illustration of an adulterous wife to be brought back, to be brought back to a place of blessing.

In closing, I wanted to bring to light research MacArthur cited in his sermons. He wrote and preached them in 1978. Even then, the damage divorce brings was becoming crystal clear.

Armand Nicholi, MD, a psychiatrist who is also on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, looked at the effect divorce and parental absence had on families. His research appeared in a 1978 edition of Christianity Today. He warned:

Certain trends prevalent today will incapacitate the family, destroy its integrity and cause its members to suffer such crippling emotional conflicts that they will become an intolerable burden to society. If any one factor influences the character development and emotional stability an individual, it is the quality of the relationship he or she experiences as a child with both parents.

And:

Conversely if people suffering from severe non-organic emotional illness have one experience in common, it is the absence of a parent through death, divorce, etc. A parent’s inaccessibility either physically, emotionally or both can profoundly influence a child’s emotional health.

Moving around was also problematic, and some of this was driven by divorce. Nicholi’s research published in 1978 revealed that:

50% of the U. S. population lived at a different address 5 years ago. Consequently young people have no sense of roots, have no concept of extended friendships.

Nicholi saw the 1970s reality and correctly predicted a stark future:

The trend toward quick and easy divorce, and the ever increasing divorce rate subjects more and more children to physically and emotionally absent parents. The divorce rate has risen 700% in this century, and it continues to rise. There is now one divorce for every 1.8 marriages. Over 1 million children a year are involved in divorce cases, and 13 million children under 18 now have one or both parents missing.

First, the quality of family life will continue to deteriorate, producing a society with a higher incidence of mental illness than ever before. 95% of our hospital beds will be taken up by mentally ill people. This illness will be characterized primarily by a lack of self-control. We can expect the assassination of people in authority to be frequent occurrences. Crimes of violence will increase, even those within the family, the suicide rate will rise. As sexuality becomes more unlimited more separated from family and emotionally commitment the deadening effect will cause more bizarre experimenting and widespread perversion.

We’re seeing and living this out today.

Our Lord is perfect in all things, including His exhortations about marriage and divorce. Why do we continue to ignore Him?

Next time: Matthew 6:7-15

 

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 5:25-26

25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.[a]

—————————————————————

This passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which includes not only the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-11 but also the rest of Matthew 5 as well as Matthew 6 and Matthew 7!

Jesus delivers a lot of hard-hitting messages in this lengthy sermon comprising three chapters.

The preceding verses to today’s are as follows:

Anger

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[c] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Therefore, if we are angry at someone — even if we have a nonviolent grudge against them — we are to mend our fences with them before worshipping.

If we make these overtures and the other person does not accept them, then we have done our best and cannot change their minds. We can still pray that divine grace brings them a change of heart in time.

There is something insidious and destructive about anger and grudges. Our Lord says:

whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire.

When we destroy — and continue to destroy — a person’s reputation unjustly and unreasonably, we are in danger of being condemned ourselves when we reach the Final Judgement. Let’s make up now!

On the other hand, some of us have business associates, neighbours or, worse, family members who conduct character assassinations against us. Note the word ‘assassinations’ in that commonly used turn of phrase. Christ says that such harsh words and thoughts in chronic anger are tantamount to murder. Food for thought.

John MacArthur has an interesting take on this with regard to church worship. Even when he gave this sermon on Matthew in 1978, he was already getting requests for the contemporary folderol (trifling thing) so in vogue these days: better aesthetics, modern music and so on to bring in more people.

His response was as follows (emphases mine):

The way to increase the meaningful worship is to get the people out who don’t have any business being here, because there’s something wrong.  You know, I believe that every Sunday there are people who come here, husbands and wives who have bitterness between the two of them and they try to worship God, and God doesn’t want anything to do with it.  I believe there are families that come where there’s animosity from the kids toward the parents or the parents toward the kids and God isn’t interested in their worship

I believe that there are times when we come to church and there is a feeling against somebody else in the fellowship, or a neighbor in the street or somewhere, and we know there’s a bitterness.  We do absolutely nothing about it.  There’s a fellow Christian that we don’t particularly care for and something has happened, and we let that thing settle in a bitterness.  And the Bible says, “Go away.  You offer nothing to God.  He is not interested in your worship.  It’s a sham.” 

Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  First Samuel 15:22 says, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offering and sacrifice, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken is better than the fat of rams.” 

This brings us to Matthew 5:25 in which Jesus exhorts us to arrive at an agreement with our accuser on the way to court, lest the judge impose a greater penalty than we had anticipated.

Worse, should we find ourselves imprisoned, we will not be released until we have paid our last penny in recompense (verse 26).

Although those verses have practical application, the more pertinent message is about our spiritual state. If we are angry — including bitter — or have not attempted to reconcile ourselves with those who feel similarly towards us, then, we are vulnerable to judgement on that fateful Last Day.

Longtime readers of Forbidden Bible Verses might find this passage sounds familiar. I covered it in an exposition of Luke 12:57-59 in July 2014:

Settle with Your Accuser

 57“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”[a]

The verses about never getting out until we have paid the last penny implies ‘never’.

Matthew Henry warns:

It is a fearful thing to be thus turned over to the Lord Jesus, when the Lamb shall become the Lion. Angels are the officers to whom Christ will deliver them (Matthew 13:41,42) devils are so too, having the power of death as executioners to all unbelievers, Hebrews 2:14. Hell is the prison, into which those will be cast that continue in a state of enmity to God, 2 Peter 2:4. [5.] Damned sinners must remain in it to eternity[;] they shall not depart till they have paid the uttermost farthing, and that will not be to the utmost ages of eternity: divine justice will be for ever in the satisfying, but never satisfied.

What sort of hell are we talking about? I am still researching the nature of this place. Whether it is literal fire or an existential emptiness devoid of God’s presence which the condemned constantly seek, it will be eternally unpleasant.

MacArthur offers this insight:

Now you notice the word “hell fire” at the end of verse 22?  It’s a very serious word, the word “hell.”  The Greek word translated “hell” here is the word gehenna, and I want to tell you about it.  It’s fascinating.  Gehenna is a word with a history.  Gehenna is used and translated “hell” very commonly.  It’s Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:9, 23:15, and 23:33, Mark 9, Luke 12.  It’s used in James.  It’s a very common word.  It means “hell.”  But gehenna – now listen – is a reference to Hinnom, gehenna is a form of Hinnom.  It means the valley of Hinnom

When we were in Jerusalem, it was pointed out to us where the valley of Hinnom was.  It is southwest from Jerusalem.  It’s very easy to see.  It’s there today.  It is a notorious place.  I’m going to read you a little of its history.  It was the place where Ahaz had introduced into Israel the fire worship of the heathen god Molech to whom little children were burned in the fire.  “He burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and he burned his children in the fire.”  Says 2 Chronicles 28:3.  Further, Josiah the reforming king had stamped out the evil worship of Molech in the place of Hinnom, and ordered that the valley should be forever after an accursed place.  Because of what had gone on, because it had been defiled, because in the valley, there had been the fire of Molech. 

Now in consequence of this, the valley of Hinnom bore that curse throughout all of Israel’s history.  It became a place where the Jewish people dumped their garbage.  The valley of Hinnom was the garbage dump of Jerusalem.  And what they had there was a public incinerator that burned all the time, all the time, all the time, never went out, never went out.  And when Jesus referred to gehenna or hell and described the eternal state of the wicked as gehenna, what He was saying is it is an eternal, never ending fire, in an accursed place, where the rubbish of humanity will burn and be consumed.  Vivid language. 

Always, says the historian, the fire smoldered in Hinnom, and a pall of thick smoke lay over Hinnom at all times, and it bred a loathsome kind of worm which was very hard to kill.  That is what our Lord refers to in Mark … “where the worm dies not.”

So gehenna, the valley of Hinnom, became identified in peoples’ minds as a filthy, vile, accursed place where useless and evil things were destroyed, and Jesus used it as a vivid illustration of hell.  And He says if you’re even angry and if you ever say a malicious word to sort of put down some person, or worse than that if you ever cursed them as it were to hell, you are as guilty and as liable for eternal hell as a murderer is.  And so Jesus attacks the sin of anger, the sin of slander, and the sin of cursing, and with it He destroys their self-righteousness. 

I know people who have held grudges against a family member — sometimes members — for decades. The grudges extend through their offspring and grandchildren. The latter say, ‘I don’t even know what it’s about, only that we’re not supposed to talk to them.’

In other cases, the person who refuses to put the grudge aside makes sure that every other family member knows what the grudge is about, sometimes exaggerating and embellishing the circumstances. The notional villain of the piece tries to make up with the family member guilty of character assassination. The angry family member refuses to put bitterness aside. Even worse, this person deprives the family of unity and the isolated person of familial love and affection, which sometimes leads to intense loneliness.

Worse, is that the person leading the hate campaign perceives himself or herself as being saintly and righteous. It happens all the time. To them, this post is dedicated. May they seek reconciliation and, if this is impossible, may they ask for divine forgiveness — then worship God in full peace.

Next time: Matthew 5:31-32

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 4:24-25

24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

—————————————————————————

Matthew 4 begins with Satan tempting Jesus at the end of His 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.

Afterward, Matthew shows us that our Lord fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by settling in Capernaum — the land of Zebulun and Napthali.

There, Jesus called on people to

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)

Of His move from Nazareth to Capernaum, recall that Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth and had to leave when his fellow townsmen tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:16:30). He had read part of the scroll to the congregation in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19):

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Incensed, the people asked among themselves who Joseph the carpenter’s son thought He was. Anger escalated when Jesus reminded them of Nazareth’s parlous state during Elijah’s time: a preponderance of widows, a terrible famine and a leprosy epidemic. Our Lord’s teaching session ended as follows (Luke 4:29-30):

29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.

He had foreseen this (Luke 4:24):

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

Matthew has the story of His rejection in Nazareth later (Matthew 13:53-58), although it omits the attempt to throw Him off the cliff.

Back to Matthew 4. Having made His base in Capernaum, Jesus then called four fishermen to follow Him: Simon (Peter), his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John (verses 19 and 20):

19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

All of this is in the three-year Lectionary readings used in public worship. Oddly, these readings stop with verse 23:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

It is incomprehensible that today’s verses are not part of the Lectionary verses. Why? They are every bit as marvellous.

John MacArthur preached a whole sermon on Matthew 4:23-25.

Word of Jesus’s teaching and healing spread to faraway Syria!

Also in this is the reality of Gentiles coming from far and wide to see and hear Jesus.

The other marvellous aspect of this is that He healed so many diseases instantly and permanently.

Medicine was very primitive in those days, in fact, until the 19th century. The reason people in the Bible considered illness a curse was that many were in chronic pain or physical isolation from disease or ailments. The most physicians, such as they were, could do was to give patients herbs or potions.

Furthermore, there was no developed study of illness. Epilepsy was considered an aspect of lunacy at the time. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

… the old English says lunatic. It’s translated epileptic. That’s very interesting. Lunatic is a word with a Latin root and the first part luna comes from the moon because the people in those days thought that people were nuts because they got affected by the moon. Lunar sickness, they were sort of, they used to call them moonstruck. That’s where you get the idea of a lunatic; he’s moonstruck. But the best etymological connection for this word for us today is epileptic. The reason we say that is because in Matthew 17:15, that word is used to refer to a seizure that appears to be some kind of epileptic seizure. So our Lord could deal with disease that is caused by demons, all of it, and our Lord could deal with disease that is come kind of disorder in the brain or the nervous system or whatever malfunction creates seizures.

Another constant preoccupation of the time was leprosy, which is contagious. No one went near lepers, who had to be isolated from the rest of the community.

A phenomenon of our Lord’s ministry was the preponderance of demons. MacArthur says that nowhere in the Bible do we read of so many as during His time spent preaching and healing.

This was the most magnificent time the ancient world had ever known.

Matthew Henry explains:

They who came for cures, met with instruction concerning the things that belonged to their peace. It is well if any thing will bring people to Christ and they who come to him will find more in him than they expected. These Syrians, like Naaman the Syrian, coming to be healed of their diseases, many of them being converts, 2 Kings 5:15,17.

John MacArthur explains how word of Jesus travelled. Galilee was a trading centre with much Gentile interaction. As a result, the Galileans were used to new people and new ideas:

And, of course, to a Jew that’s a very despicable thing to do so there was much frowning upon Galilee because of the mixture of people that lived there. But you see Galilee was surrounded by foreign people. Along the coast, the very coastline itself was that great people who sailed the Mediterranean Sea known as the Phoenicians. Along the northern part were Syrians. Along the southern part were Samaritans. You remember the southern part of Israel and the northern part was separated by Samaria where the half-breeds lived. So they had the half-breed Samaritans on the bottom of them and they had on the north and east the Syrians, and on the west they had the Phoenicians.

And so there was a tremendous non-Jewish influence. And it tended to sort of water down the traditionalism and they were open to something fresh and they were open to something new and Jesus knew that. He selected that area. Additionally the roads of the world, the great roads of the world running from the east to the west and the north to the south passed immediately through Galilee. And we know about this, in fact, there was a very famous road in those days known as the Way of the Sea. And the Way of the Sea led from Damascus through Galilee and then made a left turn and went right down to Africa. Things coming from the eastern part of the world would come to Damascus; they’d be taken west to Galilee and then straight down into Africa. The road to the east went through Galilee and then right on out to the furtherest frontiers of the east, so it was a trade route. Because of that there was a tremendous mingling. Jerusalem never had that. Because of Jerusalem’s location it was isolated. It was on a high high plateau. People didn’t bother to go up there. It was in a desolate desert area to the east and a coastline to the west, desert to the south and so Jerusalem never had that trade element, as did Galilee. Traffic of the world passed through there.

In fact, one writer said Judea, that is the south, is on the way to nowhere and Galilee is on the way to everywhere. And so because of the mentality of the people, they were open to change, because of the constant influx of non-Jewish influence, and because of the tremendous population of people in a highly productive agricultural area Jesus was planned by God to begin His ministry there.

Matthew Henry’s analysis of Jesus’s cures examines them by miracle, mystery and mercy:

(1.) The miracle of them. They were wrought in such a manner, as plainly spake them to be the immediate products of a divine and supernatural power, and they were God’s seal to his commission. Nature could not do these things, it was the God of nature the cures were many, of diseases incurable by the art of the physician, of persons that were strangers, of all ages and conditions the cures were wrought openly, before many witnesses, in mixed companies of persons that would have denied the matter of fact, if they could have had any colour for so doing no cure ever failed, or was afterwards called in question they were wrought speedily, and not (as cures by natural causes) gradually they were perfect cures, and wrought with a word’s speaking all which proves him a Teacher come from God, for, otherwise, none could have done the works that he did, John 3:2. He appeals to these as credentials, Matthew 11:4,5; John 5:36. It was expected that the Messiah should work miracles (John 7:31) miracles of this nature (Isaiah 35:5,6) and we have this indisputable proof of his being the Messiah never was there any man that did thus and therefore his healing and his preaching generally went together, for the former confirmed the latter thus here he began to do and to teach, Acts 1:1.

(2.) The mercy of them. The miracles that Moses wrought, to prove his mission, were most of them plagues and judgments, to intimate the terror of that dispensation, though from God but the miracles that Christ wrought, were most of them cures, and all of them (except the cursing of the barren fig tree) blessings and favours for the gospel dispensation is founded, and built up in love, and grace, and sweetness and the management is such as tends not to affright but to allure us to obedience. Christ designed by his cures to win upon people, and to ingratiate himself and his doctrine into their minds, and so to draw them with the bands of love, Hosea 11:4. The miracle of them proved his doctrine a faithful saying, and convinced men’s judgments the mercy of them proved it worthy of all acceptation, and wrought upon their affections. They were not only great works, but good works, that he showed them from his Father (John 10:32) and this goodness was intended to lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4), as also to show that kindness, and beneficence, and doing good to all, to the utmost of our power and opportunity, are essential branches of that holy religion which Christ came into the world to establish.

(3.) The mystery of them. Christ, by curing bodily diseases, intended to show, that his great errand into the world was to cure spiritual maladies. He is the Sun of righteousness, that arises with this healing under his wings. As the Converter of sinners, he is the Physician of souls, and has taught us to call him so, Matthew 9:12,13. Sin is the sickness, disease, and torment of the soul Christ came to take away sin, and so to heal these. And the particular stories of the cures Christ wrought, may not only be applied spiritually, by way of allusion and illustration, but, I believe, are very much intended to reveal to us spiritual things, and to set before us the way and method of Christ’s dealing with souls, in their conversion and sanctification and those cures are recorded, that were most significant and instructive this way and they are therefore so to be explained and improved, to the honour and praise of that glorious Redeemer, who forgiveth all our iniquities, and so healeth all our diseases.

The prophet Malachi spoke of the ‘sun of righteousness’ (Malachi 4:1-3):

The Great Day of the Lord

4 [a] “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

These two verses of Matthew’s — rejected by the Lectionary compilers — add so much to our appreciation of Jesus’s healing miracles, revealing His inexhaustible mercy and love for all, including Gentiles.

Such an editorial decision beggars belief. Congregations can’t bear to hear two additional — and informative — Scripture verses? I do wonder about the Lectionary people.

In closing, John’s Gospel tells us that there were countless additional miracles which do not appear in his account (or the other Gospels) — John 20:30-31:

The Purpose of This Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Next time: Matthew 5:25-26

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 1:1-17

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,[a] and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph,[b] and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos,[c] and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,[d] and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

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Today’s post begins a weekly study of passages from St Matthew’s Gospel which, as mentioned above, do not appear in prescribed readings for churches using the three-year Lectionary.

Not surprisingly, this Lectionary, developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, avoids any verses deemed to be too complex or unpleasant.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Bible, including children, seeing a genealogy as the first entry of the New Testament is bewildering. Children will find the names amusing and the content boring. Adults will wonder why this was included.

Matthew, formerly Levi the tax collector, wrote for a Jewish audience in the decades following Christ’s ministry on earth. During his ministry Matthew sought to prove to the Jews that our Lord was indeed the long-promised Messiah. The best way to do this was by proving his lineage.

Every Jew knew his family line and tribe. Those who are familiar with the Old Testament know this well. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

After the conquering of the land of Canaan, it was essential to determine what your tribe was and what your heritage was so that you knew where you were to live because the line of all the land was divided into tribes. 

And according to Numbers chapter 26 and chapter 35, you had to know your tribe, you had to know your family, and you had to know your father’s house so that you could identify yourself in the right location in the land.  So a pedigree was very important, tribal identification essential.  Under certain circumstances, according to the Book of Ruth, chapters 3 and 4 … transfer of property required accurate knowledge of the family tree.  God wanted to keep tribal land within the tribe, and so there had to be pedigree in order to make some business transactions with land.

Another interesting thing is indicated to us in Ezra 2  … it tells us at the end of Ezra … verse 62, “These sought their registration among those who were reckoned by genealogy.”  And what it means is that when after the Babylonian captivity, the people started coming back to Israel – you remember at the end of the 70 years, they started flowing back – many of them were claiming to be priests and they were claiming to be the tribe of Levi. 

Genealogy was part of Jewish history and personal identity. Matthew used it to prove that our Lord Jesus Christ is descended from David and from Abraham, our father in faith. Mention of these ancestors combined with the extensive records the Jewish authorities kept prove that God had fulfilled His promise to His people.

Matthew is careful to use ‘genealogy’ in the first verse. In Greek the word was genesis.

As this family tree unfolds, we see a variety of people. Some were ordinary people, some were royalty. We also see a mix of saints and sinners. Matthew Henry reminds us:

He took upon him the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), and takes even great sinners, upon their repentance, into the nearest relation to himself.

Verse 17 explains how verses 2 – 16 were deliberately organised: verses 2 through 6 cover the 14 generations from Abraham to David; the second half of verse 6 through verse 11 recounts the ancestors from David through to exile in Babylon; the next four verses describe family from the end of Babylonian exile to the birth of Christ.

Henry calls our attention to the following in the first tranche of verses:

– No mention of Ishmael (Abraham’s son by Hagar) nor of Esau, Isaac’s son who forfeited his birthright to Jacob.

– Not all of those mentioned had a traceable bloodline with our Lord, nonetheless, Matthew included these patriarchs from the different tribes here to indicate that all Jews should have an interest in this genealogy and Christ as the Messiah;

– Judah’s twin sons Perez (Phares) and Zara are both named, although our Lord was related only to Perez. Zara’s inclusion could have been allegorical. At birth, he put his hand out of the womb first but then withdrew it, leaving Perez as Judah’s heir. Similarly, the Jews claimed a Messiah from their own but, once He appeared, rejected Him. The second, lesser group — the Gentiles — embraced Him as Lord and Saviour.

– We see three women mentioned. Tamar, Perez and Zara’s mother, was an adulteress. Rahab was Boaz’s mother, and Ruth, his wife. Rahab was a Canaanite — Gentile — woman of bad reputation who, yet, had her role to play in helping to bring down the walls of Jericho. She obeyed when God’s servants gave her instructions. Ruth was also a Gentile — a Moabite — but very different in character. She was an example of holiness and faith and one of King David’s grandmothers.

In the next set of verses, Henry’s commentary points out:

– One more woman is mentioned, although not by name: Bathsheba, an adulteress, was ‘the wife of Uriah’.

– Rehoboam and Abijah were both ‘wicked’, yet from that family came the obedient Asaph whose son Jesoshaphat was also faithful. The latter’s son Joram, however, was completely different:

Grace does not run in the blood, neither does reigning sin. God’s grace is his own, and he gives or withholds it as he pleases.

The final period of history through to the birth of Jesus Christ recalls the following:

– The captivity in Babylon was a significant time in Jewish history. Henry explains that the Jews survived it only because they believed in a Messiah and wished for His deliverance. Although that did not occur in their lifetimes, their faith saved them.

– Although Joseph and Mary were both descended from King David, Joseph’s lineage is mentioned as the Jews considered the paternal family as being more important. That said, Joseph was Jesus’s earthly father only. Still, under Jewish law, MacArthur explains that Jesus was considered his son:

He was Joseph’s child legally because if you were adopted into a family, you were the legal child with all the rights and privileges.  He was Joseph’s child legally.  He was Mary’s child lineally and by blood.  And so every way possible Jesus Christ had the right to rule.  The father was the one who granted the royal line.  The mother was the one who granted the royal blood to Jesus.

The remainder of Matthew 1 recounts the angel’s visitation to Joseph with a brief mention of Jesus’s birth. It concludes with these verses:

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Next time: Matthew 4:24-25

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThis is the final instalment of verses from Luke’s Gospel which have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Many churchgoers do not notice the truncation of the Scripture readings for Sundays and weekdays. Anytime we see an ellipsis in our church bulletins listing the readings for the day — … — we would do well to go back to the Bible and note carefully what has been omitted. Often, these are difficult verses, pointing to our own weaknesses in character and faith.

Today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

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

Luke 24:11-12

11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

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It was nearly two years ago to the day — March 16, 2013 — that I began going through the passages from Luke which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. As with my similar studies of Mark’s and John’s Gospels, they are a revelation. You can read them all on my Essential Bible Verses page in canonical order.

These last two verses pertain to our Lord’s resurrection. The empty tomb is confusing and puzzling. His female disciples among the 72 went to the tomb to find it empty. They told the Apostles, likely to have been in their own homes and not together. Luke 24:10:

10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,

The Apostles immediately dismissed their testimony. Why? Were they associating it with the notional female hysteria, emotion and fantasy? No doubt.

Yet, who was at the Crucifixion? Only one Apostle — John. The others were women.

Who denied Him, as our Lord had foreseen only hours earlier? Peter.

Who stayed away a week after the Resurrection before daring to show himself and, even then, in doubt? Thomas.

Yet, these eleven promised they would always be with Jesus. Matthew Henry wrote:

One cannot but be amazed at the stupidity of these disciples …

This is one reason why egalitarians in terms of marriage have a difficult time accepting male supremacy in all things where women and children are concerned. Men do not have all the answers. They need women — and not just for cooking, cleaning and childbearing.

Jesus’s female followers were there throughout in dangerous circumstances. The men were afraid, fearing imprisonment, torture or death. The women powered on regardless.

Verse 12 tells us that Peter had visited the tomb — but only after Mary Magdalene told him it was empty. The coast was clear. Henry chides the Apostle’s cowardice (emphases mine):

Peter hastened to the sepulchre upon the report, perhaps ashamed of himself, to think that Mary Magdalene should have been there before him and yet, perhaps, he had not been so ready to go thither now if the women had not told him, among other things, that the watch was fled. Many that are swift-footed enough when there is no danger are but cow-hearted when there is. Peter now ran to the sepulchre, who but the other day ran from his Master. 

Not only that, but Peter was every bit as sceptical as Thomas was eight days later. He entered the tomb to verify that it was empty and to see the linen cloths for himself. Henry:

He was very particular in making his observations, as if he would rather credit his own eyes than the testimony of the angels.

Students of the Bible must wonder why, with all of Jesus’s many words regarding death and resurrection, the Apostles did not grasp what had happened. Even when they encountered Him on the road to Emmaus later in Luke 24, they still didn’t understand fully. We see that temporal glory was still at the forefront of their minds:

21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

One cannot say any of us would be better. We focus on incidental or non-essentials instead of the essentials, then wonder why our churches are empty and why young people find Christianity irrelevant. Henry reminds us:

Note, A seasonable remembrance of the words of Christ will help us to a right understanding of his providence.

And:

There is many a thing puzzling and perplexing to us which would be both plain and profitable if we did but rightly understand the words of Christ, and had them ready to us.

Something to ponder in the approach to Easter.

Next time: Matthew 1:1-17

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

The Bible passages in this series have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

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

Luke 22:35-38

Scripture Must Be Fulfilled in Jesus

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

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This is the last of St Luke’s account of the inner room where Jesus instituted the Last Supper.

The preceding verses has the account of His foretelling Peter’s denial of Him hours later.

It is difficult for the remaining eleven Apostles — Judas has gone to the authorities — to understand what is happening and what will happen within the next 24 hours.

Now Jesus is telling His closest followers that they must take certain precautions for the future. He will no longer be amongst them physically to protect them. They do not grasp the import of His message, although it will make sense to them within the coming weeks.

Jesus begins by asking them if they had ever needed anything temporal when they went out briefly on their own ministry (verse 35). They respond by saying they had what they needed, as He had said at the time.

My readers who have been following these readings from Luke’s Gospel, which I started analysing in March 2013, will recall that in Luke 9:1-6, our Lord did indeed send the Apostles out for a short time, investing them with the divine grace to preach and heal. My post on the passage, with John MacArthur’s exposition, is useful to those who would like to better understand this ministry.

Luke 9:1-6

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles

 1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

Luke 10 begins with Jesus sending out the 72 disciples in the same manner:

Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Jesus sent both groups out with few material comforts because He protected them from a distance. His blessing ensured that all would go well in their efforts. He also intended to show them that they, too, would be able to preach and heal in His name.

Back to today’s passage from Luke. Jesus now gives them different instructions: have a moneybag, take a knapsack and … buy a sword (verse 36).

That this passage does not find its way into the three-year Lectionary is deplorable. We need to know how Jesus’s presence and absence changed the conditions of His disciples’ ministry.

That said, even in churches where Scripture is studied in detail, John MacArthur says that he has never heard a sermon preached on these verses:

Perhaps you’ve never even read that passage. I don’t think in my life I’ve ever heard a message on that passage. And yet it is one of the most important ones in the New Testament for reasons that will become apparent to you.

But, people say, Jesus is — and was — non-violent, bar the cleansing of the temple. True. But then Jesus — by His all-human, all-divine nature — did not have to be violent.

He intended for the Apostles to arm themselves for self-defence, not for attacks.

Another Gospel passage which helps clarify what He is preparing them for is John 16:1-4, also spoken at the Last Supper (KJV below, emphases mine):

1These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.

 2They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

 3And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.

 4But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.

Incidentally, John 13-16 offers the fullest Gospel account of Jesus’s final words to His Apostles before the Crucifixion. In reading them, one really feels as if one were there at the Last Supper. These chapters are another reason why John’s Gospel is my favourite.

Returning to Luke, Matthew Henry’s commentary offers this analysis of Jesus’s instructions:

[1.] They must not now expect that their friends would be so kind and generous to them as they had been and therefore, He that has a purse, let him take it, for he may have occasion for it, and for all the good husbandry he can use. [2.] They must now expect that their enemies would be more fierce upon them than they had been, and they would need magazines as well as stores: He that has no sword wherewith to defend himself against robbers and assassins (2 Corinthians 11:26) will find a great want of it, and will be ready to wish, some time or other, that he had sold his garment and bought one. This is intended only to show that the times would be very perilous, so that no man would think himself safe if he had not a sword by his side.

In verse 37, Jesus tells the Apostles that He must fulfil Scripture. Here He cites Isaiah 53:12:

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,[j]
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,[k]
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

This is even more evidence that our Lord was meant to be crucified for our sins. Contrary to what revisionists or unbelieving ‘Bible scholars’ say, this was God’s plan for His Son from the beginning of the world. Nothing went wrong. Everything unfolded as He predestined.

MacArthur explains:

Our Lord Himself explicitly claims that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53, that is crucial…crucial to an understanding of the fact that Jesus knew who He was and why He had come. It is also the single most powerful New Testament interpreter of the meaning of Isaiah 53 because just the one quote, “He was numbered with the transgressors,” means that the whole chapter applies to Him because that phrase, “He was numbered with the transgressors,” which means that God treated Him as a sinner is repeated in different forms twenty times in Isaiah 53…twenty times in Isaiah 53 in one way or another, it says that Jesus was punished as a sinner…twenty times. This is just one of the twenty.

Luke 22:38 tells us that the Apostles found two swords. Jesus told them that they would suffice. This shows us that Jesus did not instruct them to spread the Gospel by violent means. However, He did expect them to be able to do His work, defending themselves when necessary.

A sword would also allow them to cut wood for fires and defend themselves against wild animals.

We might ask how the two swords just happened to be there. MacArthur surmises:

Probably one belonged to Simon the Zealot and the other one to the tax collector, Matthew. Don’t know. They would be the most likely people to have carried those things. But in the whole time they were with Jesus, they didn’t need any weapons. They would use them for purposes other than aggression.

However, just a few verses later in Luke 22, we read of Jesus’s betrayal and arrest on the Mount of Olives. Peter — the ‘one’ here — grabs a sword:

50 And one of them struck the servant[h] of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

Jesus rebukes the action and performs a final miracle before the Crucifixion:

51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

He acquiesced to His arrest because:

53  this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

Next time: Luke 24:11-12

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

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

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

Luke 22:31-34

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,[a] that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter[b] said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus[c] said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

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The setting for today’s reading is the private room where Jesus instituted the Last Supper.

Immediately following, in their carnal weakness, the Apostles debated who among them was the greatest. They still had no idea of the significance of what had happened and what would happen the following day.

Jesus interrupted their foolishness with this answer (Luke 22:25-27):

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

Today’s passage — our Lord’s warning to Peter — follows. Satan entered Judas to enact the betrayal. Now Jesus says that Satan is entering — sifting — Peter and the other ten.

It is important to note that ‘you’ in verse 31 is plural. So is the first ‘you’ in verse 32.

However, the second ‘you’ in verse 32 is singular. The use of the word ‘turn’ means ‘repent’, ‘convert’, ‘turn away from temptation': in other words, once Peter broke Satan’s grip, he could help the other Apostles strengthen their faith. Jesus has prayed for this to occur.

Why did Jesus use the words ‘sift you like wheat’? Matthew Henry offers this analysis:

Peter, who used to be the mouth of the rest in speaking to Christ, is here made the ear of the rest and what is designed for warning to them all (all you shall be offended, because of me) is directed to Peter, because he was principally concerned, being in particular manner struck at by the tempter: Satan has desired to have you.

Henry says this conversation could have occurred between God and Satan with regard to the latter’s ‘demand’ (verse 31):

Probably Satan had accused the disciples to God as mercenary in following Christ, and aiming at nothing else therein but enriching and advancing themselves in this world, as he accused Job. “No,” saith God, “they are honest men, and men of integrity.” “Give me leave to try them,” saith Satan, “and Peter particularly.”

Satan can act only in the parameters God allows. God and His Son will not allow a permanent falling away of the Apostles’ faith, no matter how much Satan desires it.

As for ‘sifting’, Henry explains (emphasis in bold in the original, purple mine):

He desired to have them, that he might sift them, that he might show them to be chaff, and not wheat. The troubles that were now coming upon them were sifting, would try what there was in them: but this was not all[;] Satan desired to sift them by his temptations, and endeavoured by those troubles to draw them into sin, to put them into a loss and hurry, as corn when it is sifted to bring the chaff uppermost, or rather to shake out the wheat and leave nothing but the chaff. Observe, Satan could not sift them unless God gave him leave: He desired to have them, as he begged of God a permission to try and tempt Job. Exetesato–“He has challenged you, has undertaken to prove you a company of hypocrites, and Peter especially, the forwardest of you.”

Henry also offers this explanation, which comes from other Bible scholars:

Some suggest that Satan demanded leave to sift them as their punishment for striving who should be greatest, in which contest Peter perhaps was very warm: “Leave them to me, to sift them for it.”

In any event, Satan wanted the Apostles to disperse, desert and permanently deny Christ.

Peter, upon hearing Jesus’s words, pledged his loyalty unto death (verse 32). But Jesus told him that by the time the rooster crowed at dawn, he would deny him three times (verse 33).

Peter felt comfortable as long as our Lord was in his midst. However, once separated, it was a different story.

John MacArthur posits that Jesus referred to his leading Apostle by his former name of Simon to indicate that he would soon fall into his old ways. After Peter claimed he would go with Him unto death, Jesus addressed him as Peter — the Rock, a future leader — albeit with the foretelling of his denial.

Once Peter began ministering to others, he understood the importance of resisting temptation and sin. He wrote his letters — epistles — from personal experience. (See Essential Bible Verses page, near the bottom, for 1 Peter and 2 Peter.)

When he approached the end of his life, MacArthur says:

He ended up being imprisoned for his faith in Christ and ultimately crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy, he said, to be crucified the way his Lord was crucified.  So he did go to prison and to death. 

MacArthur says that Jesus warned about Peter’s denial twice that evening: once immediately after the Last Supper and again at the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane.

John’s Gospel aligns with Luke’s in the indoor setting (John 13:36-38):

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts take place at the Mount of Olives. Here is Mark 14:26-31:

26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

And Matthew 26:30-35:

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

It is important for us to be able to tell detractors of Scripture that, with minor variations, the Gospel accounts are consistent.

Next time: Luke 22:35-38

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

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

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

Luke 22:1-6

The Plot to Kill Jesus

1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

Judas to Betray Jesus

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

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The end of Luke 21 tells us that Jesus spent the night before Passover — Wednesday night — on Mount Olivet, the Mount of Olives.

Meanwhile, the Jewish hierarchy plotted His death in a way that would not excite the crowds coming to Jerusalem for this feast (verses 1, 2).

They were aware how popular our Lord was. Only days before, a huge crowd lined the road on his triumphal entry into the city. If He were killed, there might be a mass revolt. It is also worth remembering that more and more Jews were in the city by now, possibly 2 million. The more people, the greater the Roman presence.

John MacArthur explains:

… they’re all very, very aware that this is exactly the kind of time that if anything starts that looks anywhere near like a riot, the Romans are going to come down hard with military force and change the relationship we currently have with them, which gives us a certain measure of freedom.  We’ve got to arrest Him, we’ve got to arrest Him now.

John 11:45-57 explains more about the mindset of the Jewish elite, including their fear of losing their power and prestige. Verses 47-53 are particularly pertinent:

47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

Returning to Luke 22 now, verse 3 tells us: ‘Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot’. Matthew Henry says:

Whoever betrays Christ, or his truths or ways, it is Satan that puts them upon it.

Satan was already in Judas. Jesus stated this in John 6:70-71:

70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

Our Lord made the same observation of the Jewish elite in John 8:38-47, specifically verses 43 through 47 (emphases mine):

43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Judas was obsessed by materialism; in fact, he was the one who kept the money bag for Jesus and the Apostles. This should serve as a warning to us not to place money and possessions above the Holy Trinity. This also extends temporally to our family and friends. Are some people too obsessed with earning money to attend to their loved ones? We have read many cautionary tales about parents who hardly ever see their children then wonder why they end up in rehab. They realise, too late, that they should have been better parents. The same holds true when people lose friends because they haven’t kept in touch often enough; they’ve been too busy with work. But I digress.

Verse 4 of today’s reading tells us that Judas went off to discuss with the Jewish leaders how he could betray Jesus. It is for this reason that traditionalist Catholics refer to Wednesday of Holy Week, or Passion Week, as Spy Wednesday.

Henry has this observation about treachery by insiders, more insidious than that from external enemies:

Note, It is hard to say whether more mischief is done to Christ’s kingdom by the power and policy of its open enemies, or by the treachery and self-seeking of its pretended friends: nay, without the latter its enemies could not gain their point as they do.

The Jewish leaders welcomed Judas’s proposition and agreed to pay him (verse 5). The 30 coins amounted to a few months’ wages. Judas went off to contemplate how he could execute his betrayal quietly, without attracting the attention of the crowd (verse 6).

MacArthur explains:

The devil moved them to do what they did and now the devil had another of his own children, Judas, and he moved him to do what he did.  In fact, he not only moved him, he not only made treacherous suggestions to Judas, he moved in.  There’s a progression there. 

And whilst Satan is powerful, God keeps Him in check. In short, it was now ‘the time’ and ‘the hour’ — words used throughout the Gospels — for our Lord’s crucifixion. Hence God allows him to enter into Judas’s soul.

Scripture was soon fulfilled in Christ’s dying for the sins of the world, past, present and future. God meant it to happen. Jesus knew it was coming. A reading the Gospels tells us this. Jesus escaped angry people — His fellow Nazarenes and the hierarchy — who wanted to kill Him. He knew those moments were not the appointed time.

MacArthur tells us not to blame the Jewish people for the crucifixion. Nor should this make Christians opposed to Israel. In fact, those who rank with the Jews of Jesus’s time are the unbelievers and mockers throughout history, including those in the future:

it was the Jews of that generation, living in that place, at that time, in that nation, in that crowd that wanted Jesus dead, and basically blackmailed Pilate into executing Him. This is no warrant for unscrupulous people to brand all Jews as a race as Christ-killers. The truth of the matter is, Jew or Gentile, anyone who rejects Jesus Christ takes a position against Jesus Christ and eliminates any hope of eternal salvation. That’s true of anybody. But to use what the people did to Jesus, the people of that generation did to Jesus, as some kind of justification for hate crimes, and holocausts against Jewish people is anything but Christian, anything but Christian. It is satanic. That kind of bigotry doesn’t come from God. It doesn’t come from true Christians. It comes from Satan. It is anti-Christian. It is true that Israel’s leaders bore culpability. The people bore culpability. Every person, Jew or Gentile who rejects Jesus Christ bears guilt. It is true. That is no reason to hate Israel. Even God loves Israel. And one day will save that nation. And even now is building His church of Jew and Gentile. Be reminded that way back in the Abrahamic covenant we are told whoever blesses Israel, God will what? Will bless. Whoever curses Israel, God will curse.

Next time: Luke 22:7-13

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