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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.”

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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.”

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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

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 19:7-9

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

—————————————————————————————————–

This week’s verses continue our Lord’s discussion on divorce with the Pharisees.

There is much to unpack here.

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.

This week’s verses are the middle of Jesus’s teaching on divorce. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18. Therefore, it is interesting that they interpret Moses’s position on divorce as a ‘command’ (verse 7), when our Lord clearly saw it as something which is ‘allowed’ (verse 8).

The passage the Pharisees were referring to was Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

Laws Concerning Divorce

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

In short, John MacArthur says that ‘indecency’ (verse 1) refers to something just short of adultery. Contrary to what the Pharisees believed, it had nothing to do with burnt dinners, sloppy housekeeping or disagreements with the mother-in-law. Under Mosaic Law, adulterers were to be stoned to death, although there were many who never received that sentence. MacArthur surmises that there were too many adulterers at the time; therefore, handing out death sentences would have been rank hypocrisy. It would certainly have thinned the population, if true.

In any event, a woman’s former husband cannot remarry her if he’s divorced her (verse 4). That is the real takeaway message here — and the one command!

Divorcing for anything other than adultery defiles the woman. Therefore, the ex-husband may not remarry her on those grounds. This is why verse 4 speaks of not bringing sin upon the land that the Lord has given in inheritance.

No Old Testament passages on divorce command it. In fact, in some instances it was strictly forbidden. Where a man has sexual congress with a virgin to whom he is not married (Deuteronomy 22:18-19, emphases mine):

18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip[b] him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels[c] of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin[d] of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.

Later on, it says the same in verses 28 and 29:

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

We read in Leviticus 21:7 of priestly marriage:

They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God.

And, again, in verse 14:

A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin[b] of his own people,

Going back to Deuteronomy 24, MacArthur sums it up this way:

Deuteronomy 24 does not command divorce.  It commands that you not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.  It’s a very strong word, my friend.  You don’t want to marry an illegitimately divorced person because you’re marrying someone who is defiled

This is because God intended for the holy covenant of marriage among His people:

Now, you see, God is protecting marriage.  And He’s saying this: you can’t just divorce your wife for anything you want, or you’re going to turn her into an adulteress, whoever marries her into an adulterer, yourself and who you marry into one, so just know that, and that ought to help you when you think about getting rid of your wife.  Because you’re just going to become an adulterer, and whoever you marry is going to fall into that category, and so is everybody else.  And you see, God is, in a sense, trying to insulate that one man, one woman, monogamous, lifelong relationship by making the alternative one of disaster.  And so, this text does not command divorce; it commands that you do not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.

Some may ask if the Bible explains how Moses decided, with God’s help, to allow divorce as a realistic way of dealing with the Israelites’ ‘hardness of heart’ (verse 8). There is no such verse:

Frankly, dear friends, we don’t know where in the Old Testament Moses actually permitted it because it doesn’t say that, but we do know that it must have been permitted for a legitimate basis or it wouldn’t have been discussed for illegitimate basis in Deuteronomy 24.  But the Old Testament does not give us a text where it says I permit you to get a divorce on the basis of this.  So, we have to sort of draw that out.  And I think there’s a reason for that.  I think God avoided saying it.  It is a permission, but it’s sort of way behind the scenes, it’s not overtly stated lest people hurry to that passage to justify themselves

God is also merciful and does not want to see innocent parties penalised by forbidding them to remarry:

… when there was an irreconcilable problem, in other words, you’ve got a partner in a marriage who is in an adulterous relationship and will not sever it and will not sever it, and there’s no way to bring it back, there’s no way to restore it.  God may be gracious to that adulterous person, but where that hard heart is not softened, God permitted divorce for the innocent party to be free to remarry.  I believe where you have an unrepentant, irreconcilable adultery, you have a hard heartAnd you are pursuing your adultery in a hard-hearted way, then Moses allowed, not condoned, not commended, and not commanded, but allowed divorce, when God was gracious and didn’t bring death.  That’s all we can understand about it, otherwise nothing makes sense. 

We cannot give any more latitude than the Word of God does.  It was a concession on account of sin to make life more bearable for one sinned against

In the case of death, the marriage covenant comes to an end. As such, the widowed party can remarry:

In other words, let’s say in the Old Testament your husband commits adultery, he’s dead.  He has no chance to repent.  If he’s unredeemed, he’s in hell forever.  Are you free to remarry?  Sure, because death breaks the marriage

There were, however, times when divorce was allowed. Ezra 10 describes what happened when men of Israel married pagan women then repented. They came up with the idea to divorce them: they were not of their culture which was known to be adulterous. They were defiled women in the first place. Ezra gave the men his permission to divorce.

MacArthur says:

They had temple prostitutes, both male and female.  And when they went to worship, for example, the people who worshiped Baal would go in and actually engage in sex orgies.  And I believe the reason that the reason there can be legitimate grounds for divorce here, is because their spouses were pagan adulterers and idolaters, okay?  And on that basis, God is permitting them to shed those wives, or husbands, who are engaged in that incessant, unceasing worship of false gods connected not only with idolatry, but with adultery.  And so, you see implied here then that they were to be divorced because of the spiritual intermarriage with idols, and the physical union they were having with the prostitutes who carried on the idolatrous worship.  Now this is a hint, then, at the fact that there is legitimate divorce where there is adultery involved, a very important text. 

Isaiah 50 is interesting as it records God’s asking Israel for her divorce certificate for adultery — sinfulness via idolatry. That ‘certificate’ does not exist. Only God can make that decision. And, because He is loving and merciful, He did not divorce Himself from Israel.

He threatened it later, only after 700 years of continual hardness of heart and worse behaviour from Judah, as chronicled in Jeremiah 3. Even then, God called his adulterous (sinful) people to repentance!

Returning to Matthew 19, this is what Matthew Henry has to say about the ‘hardness of heart’ that Jesus — and Moses — referred to:

their being hardened against their relations they were generally violent and outrageous, which way soever they took, both in their appetites and in their passions and therefore if they had not been allowed to put away their wives, when they had conceived a dislike of them, they would have used them cruelly, would have beaten and abused them, and perhaps have murdered them. Note, There is not a greater piece of hard-heartedness in the world, than for a man to be harsh and severe with his own wife. The Jews, it seems, were infamous for this, and therefore were allowed to put them away better divorce them than do worse, than that the altar of the Lord should be covered with tears, Malachi 2:13. A little compliance, to humour a madman, or a man in a frenzy, may prevent a greater mischief. Positive laws may be dispensed with for the preservation of the law of nature, for God will have mercy and not sacrifice but then those are hard-hearted wretches, who have made it necessary and none can wish to have the liberty of divorce, without virtually owning the hardness of their hearts. Observe, He saith, It is for the hardness of your hearts, not only theirs who lived then, but all their seed. Note, God not only sees, but foresees, the hardness of men’s hearts he suited both the ordinances and providences of the Old Testament to the temper of that people, both in terror.

Henry adds an excellent concise explanation of the difference between the messages of the Old and New Testaments:

The law of Moses considered the hardness of men’s hearts, but the gospel of Christ cures it and his grace takes away the heart of stone, and gives a heart of flesh. By the law was the knowledge of sin, but by the gospel was the conquest of it.

That’s a marvellous way to explain the Bible. So many unchurched and unbelievers press the importance of Mosaic Law, when, in fact, Christ lifts that burden from us and brings us to life — in every sense of the word.

Ultimately, Jesus repeats what has been written throughout the Old Testament (verse 9). He knew the Pharisees were divorcing their wives wrongly, thereby defiling them. This is MacArthur’s take:

He silenced the Pharisees.  In fact, He made them appear as adulterers.  So, when they came to Him, they really walked into a buzz saw.  They were trying to discredit Him and before the conversation is half over.  They’re standing there, a whole stack of adulterers in public gaze.

Next week’s post concludes Jesus’s teaching on divorce.

Parallel passages for today’s verses are Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:10-12 and Luke 16:18.

Next time: Matthew 19:10-12

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 18:10-14

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.[a] 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my[b] Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

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From Matthew 18:1 through to today’s verses, Jesus spoke of ‘little ones’ — childlike believers, not children — and avoiding temptation.

In Matthew 18:1-4 He says that believers must become as humble as children. He was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter, incidentally, is in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew 18:5-6 deals with the gravity of people causing believers to sin. Jesus said it would be preferable for them to have a millstone around their neck and drown in the middle of the sea. As my post explains (see link), drowning was a horrifying punishment that was unknown to the Jews until the Romans came to rule over them.

Jesus went on to say in Matthew 18:7-9 that it would be better to remove an eye or a limb that causes us to sin rather than be condemned to hell.

He gave them the Parable of the Lost Sheep as an example to follow once they become evangelists and leaders of the fledgling Church. They did not understand it as such as they had no comprehension of what would happen to Jesus.

Jesus warned them not to ‘despise’ the believers who would soon be in their care (verse 10). Clergy and lay leaders can also draw something from that. They are not to laugh at believers, nor are they to treat their flock with condescension. They are not to ignore them or to debase them. They are not to behave towards those in their spiritual care as the Jewish leaders did with the devout Jews of modest means.

Matthew Henry tells us (emphases mine):

We must not make a jest of their infirmities, not look upon them with contempt, not conduct ourselves scornfully or disdainfully toward them, as if we cared not what became of them we must not say, “Though they be offended, and grieved, and stumble, what is that to us?” Nor should we make a slight matter of doing that which will entangle and perplex them. This despising of the little ones is what we are largely cautioned against, Romans 14:3,10,15,20,21. We must not impose upon the consciences of others, nor bring them into subjection to our humours, as they do who say to men’s souls, Bow down, that we may go over. There is a respect owing to the conscience of every man who appears to be conscientious.

Jesus’s warning also includes leading innocent believers into temptation and sin.

Jesus said that the believers’ angels ‘always’ see the face of God the Father in heaven (verse 11). These angels are guards for the faithful.

That said, both our commentators say that this does not mean each person has a specific guardian angel. Henry explains:

Some have imagined that every particular saint has a guardian angel but why should we suppose this, when we are sure that every particular saint [believer], when there is occasion, has a guard of angels? This is particularly applied here to the little ones, because they are most despised and most exposed. They have but little that they can call their own, but they can look by faith on the heavenly hosts, and call them theirs. While the great ones of the world have honourable men for their retinue and guards, the little ones of the church are attended with glorious angels which bespeaks not only their dignity, but the danger those run themselves upon, who despise and abuse them. It is bad being enemies to those who are so guarded and it is good having God for our God, for then we have his angels for our angels.

John MacArthur says:

It doesn’t mean that every little baby has a guardian angel for two reasons. First of which, it doesn’t say that. Second of which, it isn’t talking about physical babies. It also does not mean that every single Christian has his own personal angel. Doesn’t say that either. It just says their angels, collectively, are in Heaven standing in the very presence of God. They are the angels of His presence. They are the holy angels who have access to His throne. They behold His face, and those angels have as their special assignment the care of God’s little ones. That’s all it’s saying. You can’t conclude from that text that every single baby has his own angel, every single Christian has his own angel. That…that theory grew up, but it’s silly, because angels wasting their time when we were asleep just sitting around twiddling their celestial thumbs. I mean it wouldn’t make any sense at all. Plus there are times when some of us need a whole bunch of ’em, and we’d have to borrow them from somebody else. That’s not taught in the Scripture.

It did become believed in Judaism, however. The Jewish tradition and superstition, it appears in the beautiful story called Tobit, where everybody, every little child has his own angel. In fact, the Jews did believe this in the time of our Lord, and that’s why, in Acts 12:15, you remember when they were praying for Peter to get outta prison? And the Lord delivered Peter, and he banged on the door, and the little girl came to the door and came back and said, “It’s Peter.” They said, “No, no, he’s in prison.” They were praying for him to get out. They just believe he would. And so somebody says, “Oh, it is his angel.” Now, that wasn’t necessarily theologically correct. What it did was articulate a superstition at the time, and the superstition was that everybody had an angel, and that, when you died, it was very likely that your angel would then appear to the people who loved you after your death to let them know that you had gone. And so they’re saying, “Oh, this means Peter’s dead.” So they articulate that common superstition that is not taught in Scripture at all. All it’s saying in that verse is that God has all these angels standing in His presence, indicating their infinite holiness, and they are dispatched for the care of His little ones.

The eagle-eyed reader might wonder what happened to verse 11, which is in some Bible manuscripts but not in others. It is this beautiful verse:

For the Son of Man came to save the lost.

The parable which follows has its parallel passage in Luke 15:4-7:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

MacArthur says that Luke’s passage relates to unbelievers. Matthew’s concerns the faithful.

As I mentioned above, Jesus gave the disciples this parable in order that they would care for the converts and not neglect them like the Jewish leaders did. MacArthur tells us:

The Pharisees and the scribes, when they found somebody that was lowly or somebody that was insignificant or uneducated, untrained, not intellectual, not well-born, no influence, no money, they despised. They crushed. They stomped on those kinds of people.

However, this is not Jesus’s way, nor the way He wanted His disciples to treat the faithful:

… it is said of the Messiah in Matthew 12:20, “A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench.” A bruised reed trying to stay up in the wind, but bruised and about to bend and fall over, smoking flax trying to stay lit. The fire trying to be alive, but all that’s left is a small, little indication of light, and the smoke is coming that indicates its flickering out. When Jesus finds one who is broken and one whose life light is flickering, He doesn’t break it further and stomp out the flame that is remaining as the Pharisees did. He doesn’t break the bruised reed, and He doesn’t quench the smoking flax. Rather, He strengthens the bruised reed, and He fans to flame the smoking flax. The weak and the helpless, the powerless, those destroyed by sin and suffering, those bent with care, those lacking resources, those that the world pushes aside and tramples and despises and crushes and treated…and treats with contempt, the Lord loves and gathers the broken people to His heart. He heals the sick. He raises the outcasts. He cheers the fearful. He strengthens the doubters. He feeds the hungry; forgives the sinners. Not only that, He takes on their sorrow, takes on their woes, takes on their pain and exchanges His love.

Therefore, He gave them the parable of the shepherd — ‘the man’ — who owns one hundred sheep and goes to find the one that strays (verse 12). When the man finds his lost sheep, he rejoices and treasures it more than the ninety-nine which are together (verse 13).

Jesus concluded by linking that to God’s will for those who believe in His Son (verse 14) — let no believer go astray.

The Jewish leaders did not go looking for Jews who were not going to temple or for those who were broken spiritually or emotionally. They did not care. Jesus wanted the disciples to know their flock and minister to them as individuals. They were to know the faithful and their circumstances.

Of the shepherd, MacArthur says:

I think the idea here is very, very beautiful. I think a shepherd was so well acquainted with his sheep that he missed the presence of one because of its uniqueness, not because it didn’t add up when it was mathematically charted. It wasn’t a question of counting all day long. It was a question of missing one, because you didn’t see the inimitable characteristics of that one sheep that you knew well being acted out on the stage of the field. The shepherd really knew every sheep. In fact, most of the shepherds would know every little idiosyncrasy about every sheep, every little quirk, every little thing that the sheep did that was unique to that sheep, because they would inspect them every night as they were taking into the fold for the night; and so the shepherd would miss the one sheep.

He points out that the Bible has several verses about God’s love of the humble believer, among them:

1 Peter 5:7, “He careth for you.” And He cares for every single one of them. The Bible says repeatedly, “There is no respect of persons with God.” He doesn’t play any favorites. He doesn’t say anything about the sheep. He doesn’t say His fattest sheep, His best sheep, His most valuable sheep, His pet sheep. Didn’t matter. It was just one of the sheep; but every one of them was equally important to the Lord; because there’s no specific valuation given to one over another.

I love what it says in Job 34:19. Talks about God, and it says, “How much less to Him that accepteth not the person of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor! For they are all the work of His hands.” God is not particularly fancied by princes, nor does He fancy them to be better than paupers; and even in Matthew 25, when men are judged, sent into eternal hell for what they have done, He says, “Because you have not done it unto the least of these, My brethren.” There is no respect of persons with God.

This divine approach towards all believers is something which should reassure us. God loves us in our humble circumstances, our infirmity, our brokenness. May we show others the same generosity of spirit.

In closing, the remainder of Matthew 18 is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. I wanted to call attention to the verses on forgiveness. The first concerns what to do if someone sins against us (verses 15 to 20). Verse 18 says:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[f] in heaven.

Whatever we hold against someone in this life will be held against us in the next unless we mend our fences with that person.

Verses 21 to 35 relate the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. It begins with this exchange:

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The parable concerns a merciful master who forgave his servant’s debt. The servant, however, did not forgive someone who owed him. Not only did he choke the man, he had him put in prison. When the master found out, he became angry with the servant for not showing mercy to his debtor:

34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Let us not bear grudges. Let us make up with those who have wronged us in the past. Let’s put away our family feuds. Let’s do this as soon as we can. Any day could be our last on this earth. We do not want to die only to find that our grudges will be held against us in the world to come.

Next time: Matthew 19:1-2

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 18:7-9

Temptations to Sin

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin![a] For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell[b] of fire.

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Matthew 18 opens with Jesus’s teaching the disciples about the dangers of sin and temptation, for ourselves and those around us.

In Matthew 18:1-4 He says that believers must become as humble as children. He was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter, incidentally, is in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew 18:5-6 deals with the gravity of people causing believers to sin. Jesus said it would be preferable for them to have a millstone around their neck and drown in the middle of the sea. As my post explains (see link), drowning was a horrifying punishment that was unknown to the Jews until the Romans came to rule over them.

Jesus went on to say — today’s passage — that it would be better to remove an eye or a limb that causes us to sin rather than be condemned to hell.

Matthew records similar words from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:29-30 relates to lust. Those verses are part of the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany in Lectionary Year A: 5:21-24, 27-30, 33-37. Note the gaps. I covered the missing verses in 2015:

Matthew 5:25-26 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, adultery, divorce, marriage

Jesus’s words in today’s reading concern all sin. Of the repetition Matthew Henry says:

Note, Those hard sayings of Christ, which are displeasing to flesh and blood, need to be repeated to us again and again …

Jesus begins by using the word ‘woe’, a warning of judgement and condemnation (verse 7). Although temptation is a constant in our fallen world, God does not overlook sin.

In saying that if our hands, feet or eye cause us to sin we should remove them (verses 8, 9), He is not asking us to literally cut them off but to do whatever we have to in order to avoid temptation. Henry explains (emphases mine):

The outward occasions of sin must be avoided, though we thereby put as great a violence upon ourselves as it would be to cut off a hand, or pluck out an eye. When Abraham quitted his native country, for fear of being ensnared in the idolatry of it, and when Moses quitted Pharaoh’s court, for fear of being entangled in the sinful pleasures of it, there was a right hand cut off. We must think nothing too dear to part with, for the keeping of a good conscience.

St Paul wrote often of mortification of the flesh; following on from Matthew 18:9, it would be better to enter heaven with mortified flesh and less sin rather than to enter hell with an intact body full of sin.

Again, the point is to make a total break with what we can see that tempts us, avoid going to places that cause us to sin and avoid using our hands in sinful ways. And woe to us if we cause others to also sin.

These warnings also pertain to unbelievers, whether they like it or not. All will be judged on that fateful final day.

John MacArthur explains:

if you’re in sin, the pattern is there being demonstrated to others…It’s a simple principle. Take drastic action when getting rid of whatever causes you to sin. Take drastic action. Don’t flirt with it. Get rid of it. That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I beat my body to bring it into subjection, you know. I’d do anything. I beat my body rather than allow it to move into sin.”

Jesus isn’t dealing with some kind of wooden, literal, literalism where all the disciples would be stumps at this point, and so would all of us; but He is simply, in a metaphorical way, saying, “Deal dramatically and drastically with your sin.” Nothing is so precious that it should be maintained if it leads us to sin

This is why St Paul wrote so insistently about avoiding sin. His words echo Jesus’s, but we do not hear or heed these warnings often enough.

MacArthur summarises the first nine verses of Matthew 18 for Christians this way:

Every Christian is one with Christ; and, when you receive a Christian, you receive Christ. The peril is that, if you offend a Christian by causing them to sin through your seduction, through your indirect provocation, through your example of evil, through your misused liberty, or through your failure to give righteous direction to that life, if you cause them to sin, it would be better for you to be drowned immediately that to do that; because the price for doing that is so high. Instead of doing that, take drastic measures to deal with your own sin. The bottom line is this. Why would a Christian want to assist Satan in his work of tempting God’s children to do evil? You wouldn’t, would you? I wouldn’t.

Pleasure is always nicer than avoidance. There was a song from the 1970s, if I remember rightly, that had the line ‘How can something so wrong feel so right?’ That is exactly what Jesus is talking about here. Avoid sin, avoid the near occasion of sin.

Next time: Matthew 18:10-14

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 18:5-6

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

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These two verses continue on from Matthew 18:1-4, about the necessity of believers to become as humble as children. Jesus was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter is in the three-year Lectionary.

In order to better illustrate His point, Jesus put a small child in their midst (Matthew 18:2). In verse 5, we read ‘one such child’ in the context of being kind to him. Are we to understand that He is referring to that toddler and others like him?

John MacArthur says no (emphases mine):

the little child in verse 4. What little child is that? It’s the one who humbles himself as the illustration of the child. What in verse 3, “Becoming as a little child.” In other words, he’s talking about the same little child that entered the Kingdom, the same little child whose humility made him great, is the same little child that you’re to receive. It is the spiritual little child, the believer, the one that comes to Christ. It’s not talking about the infant. It’s talking about how you treat one of God’s children who came to Him in humility, who came to Him in simple childlike faith, which was the whole point, as we saw, of verses 3 and 4 in our study last week. No matter how lowly that child is, no matter how humble, no matter how lacking in sophistication, no matter how lacking in power or in fame or in grandeur, no matter if it is an ignoble, if it is the poor, if it is the least among men. That little one who belongs to Jesus Christ, even one such one, is to be received as if you are receiving Jesus Christ Himself. So how you treat Christians is how you treat Him

He can’t be talking about physical children, micron, little, tiny infants can’t believe in Him. He’s talking about those believers who are classified in this whole chapter as infants or childlike.

However, all children of God — old and young, having reached the age of reason — are to be treated properly in not leading them to sin. Matthew Henry has this explanation:

Their believing in Christ, though they be little ones, unites them to him, and interests him in their cause, so that, as they partake of the benefit of his sufferings, he also partakes in the wrong of theirs. Even the little ones that believe have the same privileges with the great ones, for they have all obtained like precious faith.

The consequences for causing believers of any age to sin is extremely serious. That person will wish s/he had been drowned with a millstone tied around his neck instead (verse 6). Jesus implied that the punishment will be the lake of fire, hell. Henry tells us:

Note, 1. Hell is worse than the depth of the sea for it is a bottomless pit, and it is a burning lake. The depth of the sea is only killing, but hell is tormenting. We meet with one that had comfort in the depth of the sea, it was Jonah (Matthew 2:2,4,9) but never any had the least grain or glimpse of comfort in hell, nor will have to eternity. 2. The irresistible irrevocable doom of the great Judge will sink sooner and surer, and bind faster, than a mill-stone hanged about the neck. It fixes a great gulf, which can never be broken through, Luke 16:26. Offending Christ’s little ones, though by omission, is assigned as the reason of that dreadful sentence, Go ye cursed, which will at last be the doom of proud persecutors.

MacArthur says:

You would be better off dead than alive offending a Christian, making ’em sin. You see, God is not only concerned that we not sin, but that we not make other people sin….Better you should be dead. Beneficial you should be dead. Profitable that you should be dead rather than do that. Preferable. The language here is really vivid.

He explains why Jesus chose the millstone to illustrate His point:

… the millstone. Literally, in the Greek, mulassanikas, the mule stone or the ass’s stone. This is not the little one you had in the house. This is the one that was pulled by the mule, the one that Sampson was tied up to when he was grinding grain in his blindness. A beast had to pull it. A massive, huge stone, weighing tons. Huge would come into their minds when they heard mulassanikas.

It would be better if you took a stone like that, tied it around your neck, and, literally, in the Greek, it says drowned far out in the open sea. Taken way out with a stone weighing tons around your neck and poonk, and I mean you’d go to the bottom like a rocket

The notion of drowning was intended to shock His disciples. The Jews did not drown people. However, the Romans did:

Jews didn’t drown people for any kind of crime. It was, to them, a horrible, unimaginable punishment. And to be drowned all alone with a millstone around your neck in some far off region of the ocean was terrifying. The Romans did that. The Jews didn’t…That’s what Jesus says would be better for you, a lonely, terrorizing, shocking, painful end to your life. You would be better off dead with the worst kind of death imaginable than to offend a Christian, to cause that Christian to sin.

The effect on the disciples must have been stunning. They had just been arguing about who among them was the greatest and Jesus put a stop to that foolish talk promptly:

Oh, what a lesson. I can imagine there were a few gulps in the room, because the disciples had been around there for a while making each other jealous, envious, bitter, resentful, hateful, proud, self-seeking, causing each other to sin. So the thought is marvelous. Those who come into God’s Kingdom are small infants. They’re children. They’re the weak. They’re the lowly, and their own resources are limited. They’re children. They’re infants, and infants need care, and they need protection, and they need guarding, and they don’t need exposure to danger. Children are lowly. They’re weak. They need to be cared for. They need to be protected. God expects that with his family, and we must never cause His children to sin. It is an enormous crime, enormous.

The apostles later forgot the lesson and raised the question of who among them was the greatest at the Last Supper, no less (Luke 22:24-30).

There are two types of sin, that of commission and that of omission.

Sins of commission involve active temptation:

… the first way we make people sin is by directly tempting them. That’s right. Satan can use us. The world can use us. The flesh can use us to be the direct source of temptation. We know that. We’ve had people who come to us and say, “Let’s do this.” “Well, that’s not right to do.” “I know, but we’ll get away with it.” From the time you’re little, you hear that deal. “Oh, listen, we paid enough tax in that last year, honey. I mean just go ahead and put it down. I know we didn’t have a right claim that deduction, but put it down anyway. They’ll never know.” And so you have led someone into sin. Better you should be drowned in the middle of the sea.

Or you let your children expose themselves to garbage and filth on television or at the theater or wherever, in the things they read. You are leading that child. Better you should be dead. Or maybe in your business, you’re getting your employees involved in that which is illegal and illicit and not right, and you’re causing those who are Christian employees in your business to do things that are not right. Better you should be dead than seduce God’s people. Young man take a young girl out and try to get to compromise her virtue. Better you should be drowned, my friend, than that you should steal the virtue of some lovely young girl…

The Bible has many examples of sin emanating from temptation. God punished all of those sinners, from Jereboam to Jezebel, as they led others into sin.

Sins of omission involve turning a blind eye to certain situations which result in physical or emotional pain. Ignoring a friend or family member’s anxiety is one example. That anxiety can lead them to drink, drugs, self-harm or suicide. Postponing the spiritual guidance of young children in our care is another. I know parents who leave that to teachers, because they cannot be bothered. That can lead to immorality, nihilism and/or atheism in an adolescent. A manager who does nothing about bullying in the office is also guilty in not only encouraging a dysfunctional atmosphere but encouraging, even indirectly, an employee’s hurt and loneliness.

Americans and Britons are enjoying a three-day holiday weekend. The Americans have Memorial Day (remembering those who died in the armed forces) and the British celebrate Whitsun (Pentecost) — now Spring — Bank Holiday Monday. Let’s make sure we enjoy these days in the the way He would wish. As the Lord’s Prayer says:

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Next time: Matthew 18:7-9

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