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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.

Matthew 22:23-33

Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

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Matthew 22 records the continuation of theological tests from the Jewish hierarchy and Jesus’s lessons to them.

These took place on Wednesday of His last Passover, which we commemorate during Holy Week.

Matthew 22:1-14 is the Parable of the Wedding Feast. This is an allegory for God’s invitation to share eternal life with Him. The king in Jesus’s parable prepared a wedding feast but those he invited turned the celebration down because they were otherwise occupied. Some even killed his servants, the king’s messengers. The king then instructed his servants to invite all and sundry, both ‘bad and good’ (verse 10). One man was not wearing a wedding garment, not because he could not afford one but because he did not care, a reference to the state of our hearts. The king threw him out. Jesus concluded the parable:

13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Jesus meant that, through Him, God extended an invitation to the Jews to eternal life through belief in His Son the Messiah. The Jews rejected Him, so God invited the Gentiles instead. However, those who do not honour God, like the man not wearing a wedding garment, face His condemnation to eternal death.

It is useful to add that this parable refers to God’s condemnation of them and their people in 70 AD with the destruction of the temple.

Matthew Henry gives us the takeaways of the Parable of the Wedding Feast (emphases mine):

… this feast, a heaven upon earth now, and a heaven in heaven shortly. God has prepared it in his counsel, in his covenant.

Gospel calls and offers are represented by an invitation to this feast. Those that make a feast will have guests to grace the feast with. God’s guests are the children of men.

none are excluded but those that exclude themselves … They are bidden to the wedding, that they may go forth to meet the bridegroom for it is the Father’s will that all men should honour the Son.

Note, Making light of Christ, and of the great salvation wrought out by him, is the damning sin of the world. AmelesantesThey were careless. Note, Multitudes perish eternally through mere carelessness, who have not any direct aversion, but a prevailing indifference, to the matters of their souls, and an unconcernedness about them.

Observe, Both the city and the country have their temptations, the merchandise in the one, and the farms in the other so that, whatever we have of the world in our hands, our care must be to keep it out of our hearts, lest it come between us and Christ.

The prophets and John the Baptist had been thus abused already, and the apostles and ministers of Christ must count upon the same.

Such were some of you or, some that after their conversion proved bad, that turned not to the Lord with all their heart, but feignedly others that were upright and sincere, and proved of the right class. Ministers, in casting the net of the gospel, enclose both good fish and bad but the Lord knows them that are his.

Observe, This hypocrite was never discovered to be without a wedding garment, till the king himself came in to see the guests. Note, It is God’s prerogative to know who are sound at heart in their profession, and who are not. We may be deceived in men, either one way or other but He cannot. The day of judgment will be the great discovering day, when all the guests will be presented to the King …

Those, and those only, who put on the Lord Jesus, that have a Christian temper of mind, and are adorned with Christian graces, who live by faith in Christ, and to whom he is all in all, have the wedding garment.

They who never heard a word of this wedding feast will have more to say for themselves their sin will be more excusable, and their condemnation more tolerable, than theirs who came to the feast without the wedding garment, and so sin against the clearest light and dearest love.

they are few, very few, that are chosen many called to the wedding feast, but few chosen to the wedding garment, that is, to salvation, by sanctification of the Spirit. This is the strait gate, and narrow way, which few find.

The Pharisees then asked Jesus paying tax to Caesar (verses 15-22). They wanted to trap Him into taking one theological side or the other. The Pharisees despised Roman rule and opposed paying tax to their oppressors. Their theological opponents, the Herodians, supported Roman rule. They did well out of it as a result. The people, in turn, loathed the Herodians.

Here they mocked Jesus by calling Him ‘Master’ insincerely. Jesus called them out:

18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?

He asked them to produce a coin, which they did. He asked them whose it was, and they replied, ‘Caesar’s’. He answered them (verse 21):

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

They marvelled at His response and went away.

However, Henry makes this distinction:

Note, There are many in whose eyes Christ is marvellous, and yet not precious. They admire his wisdom, but will not be guided by it, his power, but will not submit to it. They went their way, as persons ashamed, and made an inglorious retreat. The stratagem being defeated, they quitted the field. Note, There is nothing got by contending with Christ.

Then it was the turn of the Sadducees to approach Him, which brings us to today’s verses.

There were four groups of Jews in Jesus’s time. John MacArthur explains:

Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes. Essenes were sort of hermits down in the desert who spent all their time copying scrolls and most likely copies the Dead Sea Scrolls, which we have found. Then there were the Zealots who were political activists, who were very nationalistic, who were sort of the terrorists, who were giving trouble to Rome. And then there were the Pharisees who were the religionists. And then there were the Sadducees.

And I’ll give you a little bit of information about them so you’ll understand what’s going on here. They were not many in number. They were a very small group. They were extremely wealthy and very influential. They were the aristocratic ruling class in Judaism. They were the highest echelon. In fact, the chief priests, the high priest, the noblest of the priests were SadduceesThe majority of the members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Israel were also Sadducees. So they had great power, they had great influence, they had great prestige, and they also were wealthy because it was they who ran the temple concessions, the money changing, the buying and selling of all sorts of things that went on there were under their power.

They were not popular with the people. First of all rich people who tend to do things for the expediency of their own personal gain don’t tend to be very popular. Secondly, their theology was not the theology of the people, for it denied the resurrection. The Pharisees were more popular with the people, and so the conflict between the Pharisees and the Sadducees even added to their unpopularity. They had structural power, they had money power, they gouged the people with the money changing, they gouged the people with the selling and the buying of the animals for the sacrifices, they were not a popular group.

Now politically they were pro Rome, which even added to their unpopularity. They were pro Rome for this reason: they were fat cats

MacArthur says they were also very literal in their interpretation of Scripture, which helps us make more sense of the hypothetical situation they put forward to Jesus.

Now MacArthur says we do not know how the Sadducees got their name, but Henry did. He tells us:

These heretics were called Sadducees from one Sadoc, a disciple of Antigonus Sochæus, who flourished about two hundred and eighty-four years before our Saviour’s birth. They lie under heavy censures among the writers of their own nation, as men of base and debauched conversations, which their principles led them to. As the Pharisees and Essenes seemed to follow Plato and Pythagoras, so the Sadducees were much of the genius of the Epicureans[;] they denied the resurrection, they said, There is no future state, no life after this that, when the body dies, the soul is annihilated, and dies with it that there is no state of rewards or punishments in the other world no judgment to come in heaven or hell. They maintained, that, except God, there is not spirit (Acts 23:8), nothing but matter and motion. They would not own the divine inspiration of the prophets, nor any revelation from heaven, but what God himself spoke upon mount Sinai. 

The Sadducees held that only the Pentateuch — the first five books of the Bible, those credited to Moses — were the only valid Scripture. Everything else — Psalms, prophecies and others — held no validity for them. They also rejected the whole body of Jewish traditions from generations before.

In verse 23, we are told they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They presented a scenario to Jesus involving the Mosaic Law which said that a widow must remarry a single brother of her late husband’s so that the family lineage — and God’s chosen — could continue and multiply (verse 24).

Henry explains:

They suggest the law of Moses in this matter (Matthew 22:24), that the next of kin should marry the widow of him that died childless (Deuteronomy 25:5) we have it practised Ruth 4:5. It was a political law, founded in the particular constitution of the Jewish commonwealth, to preserve the distinction of families and inheritances, of both which there was special care taken in that government.

MacArthur tells us of Ruth:

You remember Elimelech had two sons and Ruth had married one of the sons and that son had died. You remember his name was Obed and there was no child. And along came Boaz into her life and Boaz took her as his wife and raised up a child and we’re very interested in that because you must remember that the line of Elimelech was the line of whom, of Messiah. And so that very idea of a near kinsman coming into the line to take up the place of a dead husband to raise up seed fits right into the line of Messiah Himself.

God blessed Boaz and Ruth for their obedience.

On the other hand, God killed Onan for not marrying his widowed sister-in-law. That was before God instituted this law via Moses. Even so, there was a God-given expectation to Jacob’s sons — the twelve tribes — that everyone would play a role in their continuance:

You go back into the time before the law in the 38thchapter of Genesis in the time of the household of Judah, the son of Jacob, and you will remember that there was a situation where Onan, you remember the name Onan, Onan refused to comply and to raise up a child to his dead brother’s wife, and the Bible said Onan spilled his seed on the ground. He refused to give a child to his brother’s wife, to go in and become her husband, and take that role. And it says that God killed him, Genesis 38:8-10. God took his life, because in those early years in the formation of that people and keeping that identification pure that Messiah might come to His people, God maintained these kind of laws so that names and families could be passed on.

MacArthur says it was not clear how strictly this law was applied in Jesus’s time, however, it would have been important to the Sadducees. They asked Jesus a mocking question about the afterlife (verses 25-28). What would happen if a woman married all the brothers of one family in succession with no children: whose wife would she be after the resurrection?

Jesus point blank told them they were wrong in their thinking and their question (verse 29), because they knew neither Scripture nor the power of God the Father. MacArthur says:

He really discredits them. You are mistaken and He uses the word planeo. We got our word planet from it. It means to cause to wander, to lead astray and it’s in the middle voice reflective. It means you are causing yourself to wander. You are leading yourself astray from the truth. You are mentally cut loose from reality. That’s really what He’s saying. To put it in the vernacular, you are spaced out.

Because:

Had you known the Scriptures you would have known God promises resurrection. Had you known the power of God you would have known that God can raise people in a state where that’s not going to be an issue. If you knew the power of God you would know that He wouldn’t recreate people with the same problems here. He’s not limited to that, as if God has spent all His creative power on the way we are and can’t improve on it? If you knew the power of God and if you knew the Scripture you wouldn’t be so spaced out in your thinking.

Jesus then went on to say that when we are resurrected, marriage will be finished; we will be ‘like angels in heaven’ (verse 30). MacArthur explains:

There will be no two people who have an exclusive relationship. There will be no intimacy in that sense, and I mean that in the sense of marriage. It could even extend from there to friendships. Nobody will be closer to anybody else because we’ll all be perfectly close to each other and all perfectly intimate with the living God Himself.

We’re not going to be the angels, but be like them. And they were glorious eternal heavenly creatures whose number was fixed who never died and never reproduced. Marriage is necessary in this life for reproduction, preservation, propagation for the race. In [heaven] it will be as unnecessary for us as it is for angels. That’s why Luke in his parallel passage says, “We will be equal to the angels.” Equally deathless, equally spiritual, equally glorified, equally eternal, who have no longer any need to reproduce.

More importantly, Jesus took the Sadducees apart over their unbelief regarding the resurrection. These men who held the Pentateuch so dearly really didn’t know it, because Jesus cited Exodus 3:6 (verses 31, 32).

MacArthur unpacks this for us:

You say, well wait a minute. Is that supposed to be a statement about resurrection? It is. Is indeed a statement about resurrection. He quotes Moses because that’s what they demanded and the statement is an emphatic statement. In the Greek it’s egome I am, present tense, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And the argument here is an argument of the verb tense. He doesn’t say I was he God of Abraham, I was the God of Isaac, and I was the God of Jacob. You see in Exodus 3:6, Abraham was dead, Isaac was dead, and Jacob was dead already. How then can He say I am the God of Abraham, I am the God of Isaac, I am the God of Jacob, which is exactly what the Hebrew of 3:6 implies?

Well you can see it also in Genesis 26:24, Genesis 28:13, God says I am the God of Abraham and in both of those passages Abraham is already dead. And in Exodus 3:6, Exodus 3;15, Exodus 3:16, Exodus 4:15, God says I’m the God of Abraham, I’m the God of Isaac, I’m the God of Jacob, and they’re already dead. And His point then, at the end of the verse, is God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, so if God says I am the God of these people they must be, what, alive, alive. God is not worshipped by corpses. He’s not the God of people who don’t exist. Who wants to be the God of people who don’t exist?

Now note that each is individually singled out there, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and He’s talking about personal intimate relationship of each of them. Now the genitive here of the God of, the God of, the God of, can be seen two ways. It could mean this: the God to whom Abraham belongs, the God to whom Isaac belongs, the God to whom Jacob belongs. Or it could mean the God who belongs to Abraham, the God who belongs to Isaac, the God who belongs to Jacob, and I like to see both. I am the God to whom Abraham belongs and who belongs to Abraham. I am the God to whom Isaac belongs and who belongs to Isaac. I am the God to whom Jacob belongs and who belongs to Jacob. In other words, I am the God who continues to have an intimate relationship of life and worship with these who are dead, which means they still must be, what, alive.

When the crowd heard that, they were ‘astonished’ (verse 33). This is because Jesus was able to answer His enemies perfectly. Remember, most of those people did not recognise Him as their Messiah.

MacArthur says this passage should leave us with three messages about Jesus:

… one, I see here the majestic deity of Jesus.

Second thing I see is His commitment to Scripture.

And thirdly I see his affirmation of resurrection. Whenever I might be prone to doubt the resurrection I’m reminded that Jesus never doubted it for a moment, never for a moment, and affirms here that those who are dead are still alive because God is the God of the living. And so I’m encouraged with another view of Jesus as God, with another view of His dependence on Scripture, with another view of the hope of everlasting life. Instead of them discrediting Him, He discredited them and exposed Himself in all His majesty one more time.

After two more unsuccessful religious tests, Matthew 22 ends with this:

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

Matthew 23 recounts what Jesus did next. He condemned the hierarchy with seven woes.

In closing, there are two parallel accounts of this exchange. Mark 12:18-27, about which I wrote in 2013, is not in the Lectionary. However, Luke’s — Luke 20:27-38 — is included.

Next time: Matthew 23:13-15

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 21:23-27

The Authority of Jesus Challenged

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur says:

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

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

Matthew Henry points out:

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

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

Luke 20:1 tells us He:

was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why then did you not believe him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week’s verses continue the same theme.

Next time: Matthew 21:44-46

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 21:18-22

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur has an interesting analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

if you have faith and do not doubt

Our Lord Himself told us not to doubt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains what Jesus means by faith:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time: Matthew 21:23-27

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 21:14-17

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

——————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry — ‘Jesus cleanses the temple’ — discussed how He restored His Father’s house to its rightful place of honour and worship by purging it of sin, specifically deception and greed.

There is a place for a consecrated building to be designated as God’s house. Whilst we are God’s people because we love and worship His Son Jesus Christ, let no one convince us that there is no place for a church building. Over the past decade, if not longer, increasing numbers of clergy have been saying that a structure is unimportant. In the short term, where there is a new church plant, it’s understandable. Looking towards the long term, however, a congregation should be saving money and raising funds for a church building.

If a building dedicated to worship were that negligible, Jesus never would have bothered to cleanse the temple. He could have simply said that the temple was man-made and flawed by definition, therefore, it had nothing to do with Him or God. As it was, He reminded the swindlers that God called the temple ‘My house’.

Today’s verses complete the story. What is particularly striking is that no sooner did Jesus purge the temple of sin than He went on to glorify God through healing the blind and the lame, restoring them to full health immediately (verse 14).

He would be hanging agonisingly on a cross within a few days, yet He reached out to the infirm for one last time. His compassion and love know no bounds.

Matthew Henry has a beautiful analysis, wherein he says that Jesus also granted them spiritual health. How much more proof of His divinity could He give? Emphases mine below:

When he had driven the buyers and sellers out of the temple, he invited the blind and lame into it for he fills the hungry with good things, but the rich he sends empty away. Christ, in the temple, by his word there preached, and in answer to the prayers there made, heals those that are spiritually blind and lame. It is good coming to the temple, when Christ is there, who, as he shows himself jealous for the honour of his temple, in expelling those who profane it, so he shows himself gracious to those who humbly seek him. The blind and the lame were debarred David’s palace (2 Samuel 5:8), but were admitted into God’s house for the state and honour of his temple lie not in those things wherein the magnificence of princes’ palaces is supposed to consist from them blind and lame must keep their distance, but from God’s temple only the wicked and profane. The temple was profane and abused when it was made a market-place, but it was graced and honoured when it was made an hospital to be doing good in God’s, is more honourable, and better becomes it, than to be getting money there. Christ’s healing was a real answer to that question, Who is this? His works testified of him more than the hosannas and his healing in the temple was the fulfilling of the promise, that the glory of the latter house should be greater than the glory of the former.

While the children nearby rejoiced in the most glorifying of ways, the chief priests and scribes became angry (verse 15). Of these men, Henry observes:

Proud men cannot bear that honour should be done to any but to themselves, and are uneasy at nothing more than at the just praises of deserving men … When Christ is most honoured, his enemies are most displeased.

He explains their indignation:

They were inwardly vexed at the wonderful things that he did[;] they could not deny them to be true miracles, and therefore were cut to the heart with indignation at them, as Acts 4:16,5:33. The works that Christ did, recommended themselves to every man’s conscience. If they had any sense, they could not but own the miracle of them and if any good nature, could not but be in love with the mercy of them: yet, because they were resolved to oppose him, for these they envied him, and bore him a grudge.

We might well wonder if the children fully understood why they sang hosannas and referred to Jesus as the Son of David.

John MacArthur reminds us that this event came shortly after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so the children might have been repeating what they had heard then or afterwards:

… we don’t know really how perceptive they were. I’m sure they were perceptive enough to see that He had healed people and that’s pretty overwhelming. You say, “Well, where did they get the idea that He was the Son of David?” Hey, what had been going on all day the day before? And kids learn from their parents, they were just echoing what they heard the day before only it was no problem for them, boy, it seemed really clear now. Mom and dad yesterday had been shouting hosanna to the Son of David, the one coming in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest. They had been praising Him as the King. And as far as these kids could see, it was pretty clear that that’s who He was.

Henry is of the same perspective and adds this practical application by way of warning:

Little children say and do as they hear others say, and see others do so easily do they imitate and therefore great care must be taken to set them good examples, and no bad ones. Maxima debetur puero reverentia–Our intercourse with the young should be conducted with the most scrupulous care. Children will learn of those that are with them, either to curse and swear, or to pray and praise.

Henry goes a step further than MacArthur in saying that the children were divinely inspired:

The Jews did betimes teach their children to carry branches at the feast of tabernacles, and to cry Hosanna but God taught them here to apply it to Christ.

That’s a beautiful thought.

Furious, the chief priests and scribes asked Jesus if He had heard what they were saying? In response, Jesus simply cited Psalm 8:2, the source of the centuries-old saying, ‘Out of the mouths of babes’, indicating profound truth emanating from a blameless innocent who does not understand what he is saying:

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

What a perfect response to the imperfect souls of the hierarchy!

MacArthur says that the idea here was that God would elicit praise for His Son, and if adults wouldn’t justly do it, children would:

God is going to get His praise to His Son, even if the stones have to cry out, as Luke 19:40 said. Like the stones, Christ is to be praised. Like the children, Christ is to be praised. Like people, they are to praise Him as well. He will get the praise either from mature people or infants or rocks if need be. He just alludes to that Psalm as an illustration of what is happening. And I say that so that you’ll understand it isn’t to say that these were zero to three-year-old babies all chanting together, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” But rather an allusion to that principle there.

With that citation, Jesus left the heartless hierarchy standing there. It is also possible that He did not wish to be in their presence lest they seize Him before time. He made His way towards Bethany (verse 18), which, as Henry says, was but a short distance away:

He left them, in prudence, lest they should now have seized him before his hour was come in justice, because they had forfeited the favour of his presence. By repining at Christ’s praises we drive him from us. He left them as incorrigible, and he went out of the city to Bethany, which was a more quiet retired place not so much that he might sleep undisturbed as that he might pray undisturbed. Bethany was but two little miles from Jerusalem thither he went on foot, to show that, when he rode, it was only to fulfil the scripture. He was not lifted up with the hosannas of the people but, as having forgot them, soon returned to his mean and toilsome way of travelling.

Jesus’s good friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus — whom He had recently resurrected — lived in Bethany. Scripture does not tell us, but their house might have been a haven of peace and prayer for Him. They would have rejoiced at having Him as a houseguest.

Next time: Matthew 21:18-22

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

12 And Jesus entered the temple[a] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

———————————————————————————

We are now reading about the events of Jesus’s final Passover, which many Christians commemorate during Holy Week.

Matthew 21:1-11 records His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we remember as Palm Sunday. It is important to remember that the crowds hailed him as a temporal king, not the spiritual Messiah.

Once in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple, which, being Passover, was teeming with faithful Jews anxious to offer the proper animal sacrifice.

My past posts have discussed the temple in more detail. The history of the temples is detailed here and here. The structure of the temple of Jesus’s era, the one that the Romans destroyed in 70 AD, is here.

That last post is well worth reading before contemplating today’s verses as it also includes how suitable home bred animals were often rejected and the faithful were forced to buy their sacrifices from the temple.

Then there was the question of temple tax, due during this time. The Jews had to pay it with a special coin in order to be allowed into the Temple during Passover. The moneychangers would charge an exhorbitant rate to exchange everyday money for this coin.

There was a real racket going on. No wonder Jesus was filled with righteous anger.

Some readers might be confused about this cleansing of the temple. After all, isn’t it recorded early on in John’s Gospel? John 2:13-17 says:

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

That cleansing was at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. John MacArthur explains:

So, when He started His ministry, He started it at the temple and when He ends it, He ends it at the temple.

These two cleansings bookend His earthly ministry.

They are important in that, through them, He establishes his Messianic credentials. He is cleaning His Father’s house (verse 12).

In some manuscripts, such as the King James Version, verse 12 begins (emphases mine):

And Jesus went into the temple of God

Jesus drove out these crooked, greedy men. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those selling pigeons. Pigeons were the poor man’s sacrifice. The impoverished faithful were charged exhorbitant prices.

One can imagine the scene. Carefully counted coins scattered everywhere. Pigeons flew away, perhaps not to be seen again.

All this had the permission of the high priest, Annas. He and the other priests were in on the racket. MacArthur explains:

Annas being the high priest, a corrupt and vile man who saw the temple as a way to get power and wealth…had a great idea. He and his priests sold concessions. In other words, you could buy space in the Court of the Gentiles. And there you could come and sell sheep, lambs, doves, pigeons, make money exchanges, sell oil, wine, salt and other requisites that go along with sacrifices.

And you paid dearly for those concessions because here’s how the system worked. Every offering had to be approved by the priests, right? When you finally got into the Court of the Israelites and you brought what you were going to give, it had to be approved. And maybe they had approving stations even before you got that far in. But the priests had to say your sacrifice is okay, and the odds were that if you bought it outside the temple, it was not going to be approved. If you had raised a lamb way out where you lived and brought that little lamb in to be offered, they’d say that lamb is not acceptable, you must have a lamb purchased in the Court of the Gentiles. Go see So-and-so. And so you’d go to buy a lamb from him, only according to Edersheim, the great Jewish historian, you would pay ten times the value of that lamb. So you were extorted, you were fleeced to reverse the picture a little. You were taken by robbers.

Poor people, according to Levitical law, didn’t have to bring a lamb because they couldn’t afford lamb, so they were allowed to have a dove or a pigeon in the place of a lamb. And most historians feel that in today’s currency, a couple of birds might be worth a nickel or a dime. But you would have paid four or five dollars for them there. And if you wanted to exchange your money because you had to have exactly a half shekel so you had to have the right change, and if you came from a foreign country with foreign currency and it had to be changed, you would pay twenty-five percent fee just to make small change.

It is easy for us to say that all this was Jewish practice, nothing to do with us. However, the accounts of these cleansings are warnings about similar corruption in the Church. In pre-Reformation times, this would have meant the selling of indulgences for notional penance for sin or entry into heaven:

In 1392, more than a century before Martin Luther published the 95 Theses, Pope Boniface IX wrote to the Bishop of Ferrara condemning the practice of certain members of religious orders who falsely claimed that they were authorized by the pope to forgive all sorts of sins, and obtained money from the simple-minded faithful by promising them perpetual happiness in this world and eternal glory in the next.[50]

Some of these indulgences were a mandatory purchase and, as with the pigeons of the poor, expensive. The seller — the pardoner — pocketed a percentage of the money and the rest filtered its way to clerics and local rulers. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales has ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’, featuring a typical story of the Middle Ages:

The Pardoner says to the pilgrims that by these tricks he has acquired a considerable sum of money. He goes on to relate how he stands like a clergy at the pulpit, and preaches against avarice but to gain the congregation’s money; he doesn’t care for the correction of sin or for their souls.[7] Against anyone that offends either him or other pardoners, he will “stynge hym with my tonge smerte”. Although he is guilty of avarice himself, he reiterates that his theme is always Radix malorum … and that he can nonetheless preach so that others turn away from the vice and repent—though his “principal entente” is for personal gain. The Pardoner explains that he then offers many anecdotes to the “lewed [ignorant, unlearned] people”.[8] He scorns the thought of living in poverty while he preaches; he desires “moneie, wolle [wool], chese, and whete”[9] and doesn’t care whether it were from the poorest widow in the village, even should her children starve for famine.

Some indulgences purchased an exemption from spiritual disciplines:

The “Butter Tower” of Rouen Cathedral earned its nickname because the money to build it was raised by the sale of indulgences allowing the use of butter during Lent.[51]

Similar things go on today with televangelists or independent pastors urging their flocks to give generously because, without them, the ministry cannot exist. Then one sees the money going towards lavish mansions, limousines and clothes for the preacher!

Matthew records that Jesus cited Isaiah 56:7 after cleansing the temple (verse 13):

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”

Matthew Henry tells us:

Tradition says, that his face shone, and beams of light darted from his blessed eyes, which astonished these market-people, and compelled them to yield to his command …

This would indicate the fulfilment of Old Testament Scripture:

if so, the scripture was fulfilled, Proverbs 20:8, A King that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes. He overthrew the tables of the money-changers he did not take the money to himself, but scattered it, threw it to the ground, the fittest place for it. The Jews, in Esther’s time, on the spoil laid not their hand, Esther 9:10.

MacArthur gives us examples from the Old Testament showing the sanctity of the temple, as holy a place as we consider church:

I’m reminded of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah, she went to the temple and Eli the priest sat on a seat by the post of the temple of the Lord. She went there to seek God. She was in bitterness of soul. She prayed to the Lord, she wept bitterly. She vowed a vow. Now that’s what the temple was for. It was for a person to go and find some quiet, the court was where a Jew or a Gentile could go and seek God, a place of silence, a place of meditation, a place to vow a vow to God. And she was there, you remember, and Eli saw her lips moving and she found there the face of God that she sought. God wonderfully heard her prayer and gave her a child.

And you remember when the temple was dedicated in 1 Kings chapter 8 verses 29 and 30 and Solomon offered his prayer to God. And he said, “I pray to God that this place may be a place where Your people can come and confess and find forgiveness, a place of quiet, a place of confession.” And I’m reminded, too, of the psalmist in Psalm 27 who identifies the usefulness of the temple with these words, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” It’s a place where we can see the beauty of the Lord and worship and where we can beseech Him, inquiring of Him there in His holy place. And they had turned it into a crooked bank, a stockyard, a thoroughfare…blasphemous.

What is chilling is Jesus’s comparison of these money-men, priests included, to robbers hiding in a cave awaiting their prey. What a transformation of evil to God’s holy place on earth:

And He says to them in verse 13, “But you have made it a den of thieves,” or a cave of robbers. And that’s another Old Testament quote from Jeremiah 7:11. You have made it…and He borrows the phrase from Jeremiah…a cave of robbers, where robbers hole up. Instead of being a place for true worshipers, it’s a place where people can rob and be protected in doing it. You have made it a cave of robbers. They can come here and they’re safe. Robbers used to hide in the caves. Jeremiah alludes to that in chapter 7 verses 4 to 11 where the robbers were hiding in the caves. And they were safe there, out of the way, unfound, secure. And he says you’ve provided a cave for robbers to hide in in the temple of God. And they can do their robbery right in the place they’re hiding. Such protection of extortioners is blasphemous. Yahweh’s house, God’s house to be a temple to worship and pray and commune with Him, what a prostitution you’ve made of this.

The parallel accounts are Luke 19:45-46, which I covered in November 2014, and Mark 11:15-19, which is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. Mark’s is fuller than the other two accounts, because of these two verses:

18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they[b] went out of the city.

Henry concludes with these words of wisdom:

When dissembled piety is made the cloak and cover of iniquity, it may be said that the house of prayer is become a den of thieves, in which they lurk, and shelter themselves. Markets are too often dens of thieves, so many are the corrupt and cheating practices in buying and selling but markets in the temple are certainly so, for they rob God of his honour, the worst of thieves, Malachi 3:8. The priests lived, and lived plentifully, upon the altar but, not content with that, they found other ways and means to squeeze money out of the people and therefore Christ here calls them thieves, for they exacted that which did not belong to them.

For us, church should also be a holy place where we can communicate with God, perhaps publicly, perhaps privately. It is not a place for running around, distracting others or engaging in ordinary activity, such as checking one’s phone messages or texting (unless it’s an emergency).

Many today — including clergy — say that church is people, not a building. We see from Holy Scripture that this is not the case. A bit more consideration and reverence on our part would not go amiss.

Those of us over a certain age were told from childhood that church is God’s house. May we be ever mindful of it.

Next time: Matthew 21:14-17

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 20:17-19

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

——————————————————————————

The two previous accounts in Matthew are are Matthew 16:21-23 and Matthew 17:22-23.

However, Jesus also alluded to His suffering more subtly in Matthew 17:10-13, after the Transfiguration.

The direct parallel verse for today’s reading is Mark 10:32-34, about which I wrote in 2012.

Jesus had now finished His ministry in Perea (Matthew 19:1-Matthew 20:16). He and the Twelve were on their way up to Jerusalem (verse 17). John MacArthur explains the course of His ministry (emphases mine):

It takes us back to Luke 9:51 where the text says, “And He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He was resolute in that commitment. He had while in the northern area of Galilee, finished His Galilean ministry, crossed the Jordan at a northern point, come to the east of the Jordan known as the Beyond called Peraea and He had been in Peraea coming south down the backside of the Jordan. Chapter 19 in the early part of 20 give us incidents in that ministry. Now He crosses the Jordan again, coming toward Jerusalem. He will go through Jericho. Chapter 20 verse 29 has Him departing from Jericho. So He crosses about Jericho, comes to Jericho and starts the long ascent to Jerusalem. It’s only a matter of days really now until He faces the passion, the death and the resurrection.

And you’ll notice it says, “going up to Jerusalem.” They must have been already in motion that way. Already on the move. And when you go up, you really go up. Jericho is about a thousand feet below sea level, Jerusalem is over 5,000 above and as the crow flies, they’re fifteen miles apart. So that’s a very steep ascent.

Jesus explained what would happen in Jerusalem (verses 18, 19). He would face the chief priests and scribes who would condemn Him to death. As Jews were forbidden from carrying out the sentence under Roman rule, the Gentiles would scourge Him and crucify Him.

Note how Jesus ended by saying that He would ‘be raised’ on the third day. It is a way of saying, ‘Fear not. Although my suffering and death will be such as you have never seen, I will rise again in glory’.

He told them this on the way to Jerusalem out of earshot of others because of the charged atmosphere. Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis:

It was not fit to be spoken publicly as yet, 1. Because many that were cool toward him, would hereby have been driven to turn their backs upon him[;] the scandal of the cross would have frightened them from following him any longer. 2. Because many that were hot for him, would hereby be driven to take up arms in his defense, and it might have occasioned an uproar among the people (Matthew 26:5), which would have been laid to his charge, if he had told them of it publicly before: and, besides that such methods are utterly disagreeable to the genius of his kingdom, which is not of this world, he never countenanced any thing which had a tendency to prevent his sufferings.

MacArthur directs us to the aforementioned account in Mark 10:32, which tells us that:

the disciples were–and he uses two words–amazed and afraid. They were amazed and afraid. And the reason for this is because they knew the hostility of the Jerusalem aristocracy. They knew that both the chief priests and the scribes were definitely enemies of Christ. They had enough experience to know that. They had already run into conflict with these people, the Pharisees namely, on several occasions. And they really couldn’t see any point in going right into Jerusalem. They also knew that that’s where the Roman seat was. Maybe they felt that if you’re going to pull off a revolution, it ought to start up in Galilee and become sort of an ascending sort of accumulative grass roots revolution. You don’t just walk a motley group of thirteen people into the city of Jerusalem and take over. And so they were somewhat confused. And I think really, in the negative side, they had…many of them had sort of given up on the Kingdom concept in its immediacy, at least emotionally if not intellectually. And all they could see was we’re going to go right in there and die. In fact, in John 11:16, when Jesus said we’re going to go to Jerusalem or to Bethany which is right in that proximity, Thomas who is called Didymus said, “We’ll all go with You and die, too.” Very pessimistic.

Yet what happened next?

In both Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts the next event was the request for the ‘sons of Zebedee’ — James and John — to sit closest to our Lord in His kingdom!

Mark records that James and John requested this themselves:

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Matthew states that their mother asked on their behalf:

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”

It’s amazing. Here Jesus was describing the world-changing events to come in Jerusalem and James and John were preoccupied with sitting closest to Him in the kingdom to come.

It all seems rather arrogant, especially as Jesus admired both of them very much. Henry’s analysis surmises that for them, this followed a certain flawed logic:

It was a great degree of faith, that they were confident of his kingdom, though now he appeared in meanness but a great degree of ignorance, that they still expected a temporal kingdom, with worldly pomp and power, when Christ had so often told them of sufferings and self-denial. In this they expected to be grandees. They ask not for employment in this kingdom, but for honour only and no place would serve them in this imaginary kingdom, but the highest, next to Christ, and above every body else. It is probable that the last word in Christ’s foregoing discourse gave occasion to this request, that the third day he should rise again. They concluded that his resurrection would be his entrance upon his kingdom, and therefore were resolved to put in betimes for the best place nor would they lose it for want of speaking early. What Christ said to comfort them, they thus abused, and were puffed up with. Some cannot bear comforts, but they turn them to a wrong purpose as sweetmeats in a foul stomach produce bile.

As far as the mother is concerned, she might have felt that, because of her relationship to Mary, the request was justified:

The mother of James and John was Salome, as appears by comparing Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:40. Some think she was daughter of Cleophas or Alpheus, and sister or cousin german to Mary the mother of our Lord. She was one of those women that attended Christ, and ministered to him and they thought she had such an interest in him, that he could deny her nothing, and therefore they made her their advocate. Thus when Adonijah had reasonable request to make to Solomon, he put Bathsheba on to speak for him. It was their mother’s weakness thus to become that tool of their ambition, which she should have given a check to. Those that are wise and good, would not be seen in an ill-favoured thing. In gracious requests, we should learn this wisdom, to desire the prayers of those that have an interest at the throne of grace we should beg of our praying friends to pray for us, and reckon it a real kindness.

This request takes us back to the Apostles squabbling over which of them was the greatest (Matthew 18:1-4). Students of the Gospel know that the topic also came up again before the Last Supper!

Going back to this episode, however, Jesus did not answer their mother but answered James and John directly. He warned them that they did not know what they were talking about:

22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”

They had no idea.

Not surprisingly:

24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.

With some justification.

Jesus told them to put away such thoughts and behaviour:

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,[c] 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,[d] 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It is sad that the Apostles did not enquire about Jesus’s upcoming suffering and death. They could have asked if they could help alleviate it or for advice on what they could do for their Master.

Instead, their minds were full of prideful things. Let us guard against this in our own lives.

Next time: Matthew 20:29-34

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 19:23-30

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,[a] when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold[b] and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

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Today’s reading follows Jesus’s conversation with the rich young man, the subject of last week’s post.

Jesus told the disciples that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (verses 23, 24). He used the saying about the eye of the needle as a means of illustrating the impossibility. My post on a parallel account of this — Luke 18:24:30 — cited a John MacArthur sermon explaining that saying, a traditional one of the ancient world involving the largest animal of the area. In Mesopotamia, it was an elephant. In the land of the Jews, it was a camel. Can a camel pass through the eye of a needle? Of course not.

In verse 23, Jesus’s words were ‘only with difficulty’. He meant that only by God’s grace can a rich man enter His kingdom. That is also true for the rest of us, however, it is easier because we have fewer worldly goods and obligations at stake. Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

The way to heaven is to all a narrow way, and the gate that leads into it, a strait gate but it is particularly so to rich people. More duties are expected from them than from others, which they can hardly do and more sins do easily beset them, which they can hardly avoid. Rich people have great temptations to resist, and such as are very insinuating it is hard not to be charmed with a smiling world very hard, when we are filled with these hid treasures, not to take up with them for a portion. Rich people have a great account to make up for their estates, their interest, their time, and their opportunities of doing and getting good, above others. It must be a great measure of divine grace that will enable a man to break through these difficulties.

MacArthur brings up another difficulty:

First of all, rich people have a false security. That’s their particular problem … See, rich people don’t need God because they’ve got all their resources. They can buy anything they need. No sense in depending on God.

What Jesus said amazed the disciples (verse 25). Surely, they thought, rich people could have anything spiritual because they could afford the biggest and best sacrificial animals to atone for any and all sins as well as offer the greatest glory to God because they could afford it. MacArthur says:

they could atone for everything. And they could give their money and drop it in those 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles that lined the court of the women in the temple and they could pay their alms and do their thing …

In light of this, the disciples asked Jesus if rich people couldn’t enter the kingdom of God, who, then, could be saved. Jesus said that man cannot save himself, only God can (verse 26). Therefore, no matter how many great sacrificial animals and alms a rich person gave to the temple, none of those could buy salvation. Only God’s merciful grace can save a person’s soul. Remember, this discussion took place before the Crucifixion and Resurrection, so Jesus put things in a context they could understand.

Henry surmises that Jesus might have been saying that the rich young man could be saved in future once God turned his heart to Him:

Note, The sanctification and salvation of such as are surrounded with the temptations of this world are not to be despaired of[;] it is possible it may be brought about by the all-sufficiency of the divine grace and when such are brought to heaven, they will be there everlasting monuments of the power of God. I am willing to think that in this word of Christ there is an intimation o[f the] mercy Christ had yet in store for this young gentleman, who was now gone away sorrowful it was not impossible to God yet to recover him, and bring him to a better mind.

Peter then asked about the position of the disciples with regard to what Jesus said (verse 27). He said that they gave up everything to follow Him. Recall that the disciples’ understanding of the kingdom to come was a temporal one of power over the enemies of the Jews. They also did not know that the betrayer, Judas, was in their midst. MacArthur is not one who criticises Peter for his speech:

It isn’t a bad question to ask. Some people have really gotten on Peter’s case, it’s a very natural question. I mean, they followed Christ anticipating the Kingdom. They followed Christ with hope in their hearts that He would sort of right the nation that He would throw off the Roman yoke, that He would bring in the glorious splendor that the prophets had talked about. I mean, I think his heart was pretty right on in that area and sort of summing up all the anxiety of the disciples he says, “What’s in it for us? What are we going to receive?” And I don’t think that he’s totally frustrated. I think he’s partially frustrated. I think he’s excited about what he anticipates and he wants to hear from the mouth of the Lord Himself what it is that God has prepared for them that love Him. What are we going to have, therefore? Because we’ve come on your terms. What are the benefits of salvation to us? We gave it all up. What are we going…what are we going to get?

Jesus responded by describing the ‘new world’, or ‘regeneration’ in the King James Version and other traditional translations (verse 28). He spoke of His Second Coming, as Henry explains:

Christ’s second coming will be a regeneration, when there shall be new heavens, and a new earth, and the restitution of all things. All that partake of the regeneration in grace (John 3:3) shall partake of the regeneration in glory for as grace is the first resurrection (Revelation 20:6), so glory is the second regeneration.

And how wonderful to be promised, as the Twelve were, that each would have his own throne to judge the sins of the twelve tribes of Israel in their unbelief and their persecution to come of the Apostles.

Henry says true Christians will also be rewarded in that glorious new world:

the general intendment of this promise is, to show the glory and dignity reserved for the saints in heaven, which will be an abundant recompence for the disgrace they suffered here in Christ’s cause. There are higher degrees of glory for those that have done and suffered most. The apostles in this world were hurried and tossed, there they shall sit down at rest and ease … there they shall sit on thrones of glory

The same is true of those who left loved ones and cherished places behind to follow Christ (verse 29).

Ultimately, our Lord said, ‘many’ — not all, but many — who are at the top of the social order in this world will be last in the next (verse 30). Those who were of humble circumstances will be first in the world to come.

The parallel accounts are in Luke 18:24-30 and Mark 10:23-31. Mark’s version is in the three-year Lectionary.

Next time: Matthew 20:17-19

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 19:16-22

The Rich Young Man

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

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Two other accounts of this story are in the Synoptic Gospels: Luke 18:18-23 and Mark 10:17-22. Mark’s version is in the three-year Lectionary.

I wrote about Luke’s in 2014 and looked at the differences in the three versions.

What can we deduce by ‘rich young man’? My post on Luke’s account says he was the leader of a synagogue because Luke used the Greek word arche to describe him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Matthew’s words in the original manuscript imply that he is a magistrate, or justice of the peace. Henry also points out:

it is probable that he had abilities beyond his years, else his youth would have debarred him from the magistracy.

We are looking at a brilliant young man who is highly respected and comes from money.

He approaches Jesus — Mark says he ‘ran and knelt before’ Him — and asks what he must do to have eternal life (verse 16). The words he uses to address Jesus are of interest in the original manuscript. Henry explains (emphasis in the original):

He gives Christ an honourable title, Good MasterDidaskale agathe. It signifies not a ruling, but a teaching Master. His calling him Master, bespeaks his submissiveness, and willingness to be taught and good Master, his affection and peculiar respect to the Teacher, like that of Nicodemus, Thou art a Teacher come from God. We read not of any that addressed themselves to Christ more respectfully than that Master in Israel and this ruler.

John MacArthur has this (emphases mine):

Didaskolos, or master, or teacher. He acknowledges that He was a teacher of divine truth. Mark and Luke tell us he called Him “good.” It’s added here in the Authorized of Matthew, but it isn’t in the manuscripts of Matthew, but it is in Mark and Luke. And so he said, “good,” agathos. Kalos means good form, good on the outside; agathos means good on the inside, good inwardly, good morally, good in nature, good in essence. So he says I know that You are good. I know that You are a good person. I know that You’re moral. I know that You’re upright and I also know You teach and You teach divine truth. You perhaps know the secret of getting eternal life.

It is also noteworthy that the young man asked about eternal life. From that, we know he was not a Sadducee, who intellectualised theology and discounted the afterlife because it was irrational. He was more of a Pharisee in mindset, thinking of obedience to religious law and the next life.

Jesus responds initially to the way the young man’s addressed Him (verse 17). There was, He said, only One who is good, referring to God the Father. He is not revealing Himself as Christ Jesus here.

He then answers his question: obey the commandments and eternal life will follow.

The young man asks which commandments must be obeyed. Jesus mentions all those which concern the way we treat our fellow man and our parents (verses 18, 19): ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’.

The young man is certain he has maintained these all his life (verse 20), thereby setting himself up for a fall. Henry deduces the young man answered Jesus with a lack of respect:

By pride, and a vain conceit of his own merit and strength this is the ruin of thousands, who keep themselves miserable by fancying themselves happy. When Christ told him what commandments he must keep, he answered very scornfully

The manner of his response and its content indicate that he had no idea he was sinning in some way every day. He considered himself to be perfect.

For that reason, Jesus put him in his place by saying that if he would be perfect, he should sell his possessions and become a disciple (verse 21). Remember, Jesus is omniscient. He knew what the sticking point — the source of temptation — was here: materialism. Recall His earlier words (Matthew 6:24):

“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.[a]

The young man perceived he had kept the commandments towards his fellow men. Jesus was saying, in essence, ‘Okay, now keep the commandments honouring God: sell your possessions and give yourself to His service’.

The man couldn’t do it, because he ‘went away sorrowful’ (verse 22). In my exposition on Luke’s passage, I cited MacArthur’s sermon which explained that he would have been expected to maintain whatever property and money he had for his descendants or other family members. It’s a tough choice.

Perhaps the better — and humble — question would have been, ‘What must I do to repent and have my sins forgiven?’

As it was, he gave up God for Mammon. Henry asks:

What then would the sorrow be afterward, when his possessions would be gone, and all hopes of eternal life gone too?

Does this mean that all of us have to give up our possessions in order to be true Christians? MacArthur says no. This was a specific reply to a specific person, not an overall commandment:

The Lord didn’t say that to other folks. But do you have to be willing to do whatever the Lord asks you to do? Yes. And it may be different in different cases. But the Lord put the finger on the issue here. He took us right back to the principle of Luke 14:33, the people who are My disciples are the people who forsake all. And He says to the guy, “Look, are you willing to do what I tell you? And right now I’m telling you to get rid of everything.” And He knew right where He was talking because He knew this was most important to the guy. For some people it might be a car. For some people it might be a girl. For some people it might be a job or a career or a certain sin they want to indulge in. For this guy, it was his money and his possessions.

MacArthur goes on to contrast the rich young man’s response to that of Zacchaeus, the vilified tax collector who climbed into a tree to get a better glimpse of Jesus. Zacchaeus was not wanting materially, either. Yet:

Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “O behold, the half of my goods I give to the poor and if I’ve taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” You want to see the attitude of this guy? Boy, he knows he’s been doing wrong all the time and he says, “Oh, I’ve got to get my life right. I’ve got to get my life right. I’ve got to get it right. I’ve got to give everything back. And I’ve got to give all this stuff to the poor. And I’ve got to return to everybody four hundred percent.” This is the opposite, isn’t it? I mean, the guy want…the first thing he wanted to do was unload everything he had. And Jesus said, “This day is salvation come to this house, for he also is a son of Abraham.”

Here’s a true Jew. And, boy, this is real salvation. Why? Cause the guy can only think of what a sinner he is and he wants to unload all of the stuff that he’s taken unjustly from people and give them back, not only what they deserve but everything else he’s got. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Our response to God’s requests says everything about us. May we, too, be able to release possessions, situations or relationships for His glory.

Next week’s reading continues this theme.

Next time: Matthew 19:23-30

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 19:13-15

Let the Children Come to Me

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

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This event has two parallel accounts: Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17. I wrote about Mark’s in 2012 and Luke’s in 2014.

Odd, isn’t it, that none of these readings is in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship?

Surely, the future of the Church lies in parents, guardians and other responsible adults bringing children to Christ.

The word ‘then’ in verse 13 implies that our Lord’s blessing of children took place in the house where He had delivered His teaching on marriage and divorce to the disciples. Mark’s account makes this clearer (Mark 10:13):

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.

Therefore, it would appear that this followed soon afterwards, particularly if the disciples were trying to shoo people away.

The ancient Jewish tradition of blessing children arose from Jacob‘s — Israel’s — blessing of Joseph’s sons near the end of his life (Genesis 48:8-10):

When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them.

The Jews of Jesus’s time carried on this beautiful tradition. As Jesus’s teachings and miracles were well known far and wide, especially at this point in His ministry, it was only natural that adults would seek His blessing of the children in their care. This was so that these children would lead a godly life. This tradition continues in the Christian faith. Matthew Henry explains:

If they cannot stretch out their hands to Christ, yet he can lay his hands on them, and so make them his own, and own them for his own.

Jesus rebuked the disciples for rebuking the adults with these children. He told them two things (verse 14): let the children come to Him and do not hinder them. John MacArthur analyses this for us (emphases mine):

Interesting that He uses two verbs and there’s a reasonThe first one is in the aorist tense, point action, permit right now this moment, let them come.  And then “forbid them not” is present tense.  And what He’s saying is right now let these come and from now on don’t ever make it a practice to stop them from coming.  So He takes care of the present and the future. 

MacArthur says that these children were probably infants, even though Matthew’s manuscript used the generic Greek word for children, paedia:

But if we were to compare the other passages and go to Mark, we would find that he uses the term brephos.  And so, whereas Matthew just generally says little children, Mark tells us how little, brephos, and that word means a suckling, a nursing baby, an infant.  They were bringing in their arms their infants.  And we know they must have been infants by our Lord’s response because the Bible says in Mark that He took them in His arms and blessed them.  They were bringing babies to Jesus.  They wanted Him to pray for them with His unique divine power, with His unique proximity to God, they felt, they wanted His prayers on the behalf of their little ones.

Jesus blessed these little ones — laid hands on them — and left afterwards (verse 15). Henry explains:

As if he reckoned he had done enough there, when he had thus asserted the rights of the lambs of his flock, and made this provision for a succession of subjects in his kingdom.

MacArthur tells us why Jesus was so angry with the disciples:

He was furious with them.  Only two or three times He really got mad at them.  Frustrated with them a lot, disappointed a lot, but really angry, just a few times.  This is one of them.  And the only time that particular word of indignation is used of Jesus in reference to them.  But He was very angry with them for trying to stop these parents from bringing their children …

Reason number one, He loved babies.  He loved them.  And He knew they were a creation of God, a creation of His.  And He felt a tender affection for them. And He felt a sympathy for them for the world in which they were born.  And it seemed, of course, that the disciples were utterly deficient in such an attitude.

Secondly, I think He is angry with them because He also loved adults and He knew full well that if you say no to people’s children, you’re going to have a tough time getting their attention.  Politicians learned that long ago.  I mean, He knew the first and foremost way to a parent’s heart was through their baby and He wanted to demonstrate the genuineness of His tender love and care for the little ones.

Thirdly, I think He was angry with them because no one is outside the care and plan and love of God, not even a baby.  No one is outside the concern of God, not a baby.  No one ever coming to Jesus Christ intrudes on Him.

Fourthly, I think He was angry because children provided Him a tremendous picture, a tremendous illustration, a tremendous analogy for salvation.  And He took advantage of it every time He could.

Fifthly, I think He was angry with them because He needed to set them straight about something.  And that something was this, you don’t ever say who can or cannot come to Christ.  That’s not within your prerogative.  If you follow the life of Christ, you will find that He refused some people they brought and He sought some people they rejected.  And it is a lesson of who’s in charge, again.  And so, He really was eliminating their misunderstanding, their lack of concern for little ones.

Note that Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children (verse 14). It belongs to them and to believers who have their innocence of the world and dependence on God the Father. If that sounds familiar, it is because Matthew recorded it in the previous chapter (Matthew 18:1-4), verses which I covered in May 2016.

Parents and people in charge of children close to them — family friends, aunts and uncles, grandparents — do well to begin religious instruction of some sort from an early age. My mother taught me how to pray by the time I was three years old. The sooner adults begin, the sooner the child begins to know Jesus Christ and God the Father. Furthermore, the sooner that begins the longer that journey in faith progresses and continues.

MacArthur gives us the following advice about children:

if God made them and God gave them and God gave them to be a blessing, then God wants them “returned” to Him for His use.  And that is why Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he’s old he won’t depart from it.”  That’s why Ephesians 6:4 very clearly says, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  Because the task that you have is to give your children back to God, that’s your stewardship.  So remember, where they came from, and to where they are to return.

Go back to the Pentateuch, I’m thinking of Deuteronomy 6 for a minute.  Let me give you just a look at a pattern that you need to understand if you’re going to effectively teach children.  We must remember whose they are, where they came from and where they’re to return and we must teach them…we must teach them.  And here is how.  I believe God gave this to Moses in the very beginning with His people because it’s so basic, it hasn’t changed, the principles are here.  Verse 4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.”  In other words, if you’re going to teach your children, it all begins with you worshiping the right God in the right way.   No idols.  You cannot teach them unless you commit yourself to the true religion.

Secondly, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might, these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart.”  What does that mean?  That means internalize what you believe about God.  Not only have the right theology, but the right heart.  You’ve got to commit to your children not only truth but truth in an uncompromising heart of conviction, truth in a pure heart, truth in a holy life so that you see God in everything.  You love Him with your heart, your mind, your soul, your power, everything.  If you’re going to teach your children, you’ve got to have the right God and the right faith and it’s got to come right out of your heart.  It has to be internal with you, not just external.

And then verse 7, I love this, “Teach them diligently unto thy children and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up.”  What does that say?  That simply says that you have to teach from life situations.  You have the right faith in God, you’ve internalized it, your heart is filled with love, your passion is toward God, you love Him with your heart, mind and strength and now out of every vicissitude, every trial, every struggle, every moment of life, you teach the truth of God….when you stand up, sit down, walk in the way, lie down, every time you’ve got an opportunity.  It isn’t enough to sit down with your kids and read them a Bible story and then go on and live a worldly life the rest of the day.  You’ve got to draw God into every analogy, into every aspect of life.  They have to see the Lord in everything.  All of life becomes a blackboard in which you teach the truth of God.  And it’s unending, unceasing, constant.  Teach it diligently all the time, sitting down, walking, lying down, rising up so that it’s the flow of life.

Bedtime Bible stories, a religious bedroom wall plaque, simple prayers for toddlers, the Lord’s Prayer by the time the child starts nursery school, conversations about God’s creation when looking at plants or animals, saying Grace before meals in thanksgiving of His provisions are just a few ways parents, families and other guardians can convey the reality of divine truth.

Don’t wait for Sunday School or Christian school teachers to do it. Start with yourselves — today. Teaching a child about God’s love for him or her will be more effective than their hearing it from someone they see once a week for an hour. Patience, faith and a pure heart will benefit children enormously in their religious journey.

Next time: Matthew 19:16-22

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 19:10-12

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

—————————————————————————————–

Today’s verses conclude Jesus’s teachings on divorce.

To recap, the first part of Matthew 19 explains where Jesus is at this time. Last week’s post covered God’s plan for Adam and Eve as well as the covenant of marriage, based on His creation of the couple. He then reiterated that divorce was a permission, given man’s fallen state, and refuted that it was, as the Pharisees taught and practised, a commandment. Divorce is only to be used in case of adultery, He said, thereby reinforcing Old Testament law. By saying this, He humiliated the Pharisees and made them look like the law-breaking adulterers they were.

John MacArthur explains that the Pharisees disappeared afterward, because we are left with Jesus addressing the disciples (emphases mine):

The reasons they disappeared is they had just been made into adulterers because they were standing there having had to face the reality that any divorce for other than adultery causes you to become an adulterer when you remarry[;] the fact is they had done that, perhaps myriad times, represented by the groups that were there and they were nothing but a lot of adulterers and they just fade.  We don’t see them anymore.  But by this time, the disciples are enraptured with this teaching of our Lord.  And the scene moves into a house, in verse 10.  And the Lord sits down with the disciples and I’m sure they followed up on that discussion with a lot of other discussion about marriage.

Jesus’s words perplexed the disciples. They had seen so many divorces in their lifetime that to hear those breakups defiled men and women seemed unthinkable. Therefore, they countered that it would be better never to get married at all than have no recourse to divorce only in the case of adultery (verse 10). A lifetime commitment would be too risky.

They sound like men and women today who operate under one of two scenarios. One says it is better to live together for fear a lifetime commitment could be living hell. The second is to get divorced for any variety of reasons — e.g. incompatibility, irreconcilable differences — once things go pear-shaped.

Perhaps the Jews of Jesus’s time, led by their hierarchy, thought similarly to us. Maybe, like them, the majority of us are looking for great sex and shimmering romance every day of the week. Once married life fails to deliver, we’re outta there.

Some people go on to marry serially. Zsa Zsa Gabor once said the reason she got married so often was that she wanted to consummate relations in a spiritually legal way. In her case, as in many others, once the emotional thrill and initial romance faded, she or her husband wanted to divorce. On a positive note, happy 30th anniversary wishes go to her and her husband Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt. They were married on August 14, 1986. I am very glad this union has been a blessing to them both.

The uncertainty of the future is why marriage scares people. This is why sensible parents advise their children to take their time in choosing a lifetime partner. There are many secularist families in Britain who are proud of their no divorce records which stretch beyond the generations and into the extended family. By contrast, there are notionally Christian families where any number of couples have divorced for trivial reasons; they simply ‘grew apart’ or ‘didn’t like each other anymore’. Hmm.

Before I go on to verses 11 and 12 in today’s reading, may I remind those contemplating marriage to consider that there will be times when sexual performance wanes as quickly as it waxes. Employment and financial insecurity are two main causes. Today’s economy is hardly conducive to non-stop virility and desire. Therefore, couples should be aiming to marry their best friend of the opposite sex.

Of their successful marriage, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband said:

It was a friendship, but when you’re with someone over a certain time you fall in love.[8]

On that note, I haven’t seen one of these plaques for years, but when I was growing up, they were in every American curio shop. This is truer than engaged couples realise:

Image result for kissin don't last cookin do

(Photo credit: Pinterest)

A truly loving union is a daily blessing from on high. MacArthur tells us:

Marriage is a sacred thing and it is the greatest gift that God can ever give.  I can only tell you that from my own experience as you can from yours that when you have two people who love Jesus Christ and love each other and live a life together under God’s leading and direction and in the power of the Spirit, it gets so good sometimes you have to pinch yourself to think it’s real and that’s as God intended it

It really does get that good!

Jesus responded to the disciples’ caution by saying not everyone is called to a life of celibacy (verse 11). Staying single is fine for some, but the majority will not be able to cope long term. MacArthur analyses Jesus’s response this way:

He says, that’s a nice idea.  That’s a nice sentiment.  You’ll just stay single, that way you won’t get into something you can’t get out of.  You’ll just say single, but he says, look, not everybody can handle that.  Not everybody can handle singleness, except those two whom it is given.  May I suggest to you that singleness is a gift of sorts, it’s given to a person.  That’s what Jesus said.  Unless you can handle singleness, singleness isn’t going to be the best thing for you.  You might say, in don’t want to get married, because I don’t want to make a commitment and all you are going to do is be left with a rollercoaster of emotions and find yourself being tempted in and out of all kinds of illicit thoughts, if not acts the rest of your life.

Jesus went on to discuss eunuchs (verse 12). He said there are eunuchs from birth, referring to congenital malformation of sexual organs. Then there are manmade eunuchs, referring to castration at the hands of another. Finally, there are eunuchs who do so for godly reasons. MacArthur says He meant becoming asexual and turning off desire, not actually castrating oneself. St Paul was asexual but he did not advocate that state for his converts for the aforementioned reasons that it would eventually lead to tortured emotions and/or fornication.

Jesus concluded by saying ‘let him who is able to receive this receive it’. MacArthur says He referred to heeding His teachings on divorce and celibacy. Ultimately:

marriage is the norm and I want you to hear that and receive it. 

And:

… if you can receive it, you better receive it.  In other words, if you have the life of God in your soul and you find yourself loving the Lord Jesus Christ and if you find yourself under the authority of the Word of God, then you better receive this teaching and the teaching is, you are married for life or you are single for the glory of God or for some other physical reason, not just so you can just play around.

In closing, Matthew Henry has the following pearls of wisdom about marriage and mankind’s flawed appetites:

Note, 1. Corrupt nature is impatient of restraint, and would fain break Christ’s bonds in sunder, and have a liberty for its own lusts. 2. It is a foolish, peevish thing for men to abandon the comforts of this life, because of the crosses that are commonly woven in with them, as if we must needs go out of the world, because we have not every thing to our mind in the world or must enter into no useful calling or condition, because it is made our duty to abide in it. No, whatever our condition is, we must bring our minds to it, be thankful for its comforts, submissive to its crosses, and, as God has done, set the one over against the other, and make the best of that which is, Ecclesiastes 7:14. If the yoke of marriage may not be thrown off at pleasure, it does not follow that therefore we must not come under it but therefore, when we do come under it, we must resolve to comport with it, by love, and meekness, and patience, which will make divorce the most unnecessary undesirable thing that can be.

Also, for those who are not interested in marriage :

they who have the gift of continence, and are not under any necessity of marrying, do best if they continue single (1 Corinthians 7:1) for they that are unmarried have opportunity, if they have but a heart, to care more for the things of the Lord, how they may please the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-34), being less encumbered with the cares of this life, and having a greater vacancy of thought and time to mind better things. The increase of grace is better than the increase of the family, and fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ is to be preferred before any other fellowship.

For both groups of people:

Note, That condition is best for us, and to be chosen and stuck to accordingly, which is best for our souls, and tends most to the preparing of us for, and the preserving of us to, the kingdom of heaven.

For those wondering if they will find the right partner, be patient and pray on it. Sometimes God wants our edges a bit smoother or in a different locale before He provides us with one.

I know many people who got married for the first time in their 30s and 50s. They are all very happy, contented couples.

Interestingly, either the husband or the wife from each often says s/he would not have been ‘ready’ for their spouse had they met them decades earlier. How true!

Next time: Matthew 19:13-15

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