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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 18:1-4

Who Is the Greatest?

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.


Last week’s reading at the end of Matthew 17 was about the temple tax. The discussion in today’s reading occurred at the same time (verse 1).

Parallel passages are Luke 9:46-48, which I wrote about in 2014, and Mark 9:33-37, which is in the three-year Lectionary. Matthew’s account is the only one of the three which says the disciples asked Him the question of who was the greatest. In Luke’s account, they were arguing about it until He intervened with a child. In Mark’s account, He asked them what they were discussing on the way to Capernaum that day.

The disciples were still thinking of a temporal kingdom of Israel with Jesus as its ruler. Matthew Henry has this explanation:

They strive who it should be, each having some pretence or other to it. Peter was always the chief speaker, and already had the keys given him he expects to be lord-chancellor, or lord-chamberlain of the household, and so to be the greatest. Judas had the bag, and therefore he expects to be lord-treasurer, which, though now he come last, he hopes, will then denominate him the greatest. Simon and Jude are nearly related to Christ, and they hope to take place of all the great officers of state, as princes of the blood. John is the beloved disciple, the favourite of the Prince, and therefore hopes to be the greatest. Andrew was first called, and why should not he be first preferred?

Even though Jesus had already told them of His imminent suffering to come, they focussed on His discussions of glory. They still had not grasped that He spoke of the world to come.

In order to illustrate His answer clearly, Jesus called a child to Him (verse 2). It is unclear whose child this was, but it might have been one of Peter’s as they were in his house when this took place. Some translations, such as the King James Version, says the child was little, implying a toddler.

With the child before them, he explained that they would have to ‘turn’ and become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (verse 3). The King James Version has ‘converted’, not ‘turn’.

Becoming like children in this context involves turning away from sin: repentance. We must put away worldly thoughts and sins of ambition, greed and lust. Furthermore, we must realise we are very little and lowly compared to the Lord. It involves recognising that we are dependent upon our Father in heaven for our lives and His blessings.

Becoming childlike includes donning the cloak of humility (verse 4). Humility leads to greatness in heaven.

Note that Jesus spoke of ‘entering the kingdom of heaven’, which meant that even the disciples, His chosen followers, were not ‘there’ yet. That applies to us as well. We are not born into the kingdom of heaven as an automatic right. We have to be fully dependent on the Lord in order to enter it. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

If the Bible tells us we must enter the Kingdom of heaven, what does it assume? That we’re born where? Outside of it, right? We’re born outside of it. And that entering it is an act which we must do. All men are born outside of God’s Kingdom and are called to enter that Kingdom. And the gospel is presented that men may enter the Kingdom. “God is not willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance.” God wants people in His Kingdom. Jesus looked at the city of Jerusalem and said, “How often I would have gathered you but you would not.” He wanted to call men to His Kingdom and He did preach the Kingdom and John the Baptist preached the Kingdom and the Apostles preached the Kingdom and they called men into the Kingdom.

And that is exactly what our Lord is doing here. He’s talking about entering the Kingdom. And by the way, that phrase is used three times in Matthew…chapter 7, verse 21; chapter 18, verse 3; and again in chapter 19, verse 23 … about the rich man. It simply means to become saved, to become redeemed, to become regenerate, to be born again, to come into God’s Kingdom, God’s family, God’s influence, God’s rule, God’s dominion, God’s world. It is synonymous, for example, in chapter 18, verse 8, with entering into life. For entering into God’s Kingdom is entering into life. It is synonymous with chapter 25:21, entering into the joy of the Lord. When you enter into the Kingdom you enter into life. When you enter into life in God’s Kingdom you enter into the joy of the Lord.

So, men are called to enter. There is a gate in Matthew 17 and we are to enter, right? By the narrow gate, we are called to enter which assumes we’re outside and must come in…when it means to come under the rule of Jesus Christ, of God in His Kingdom.

MacArthur explains what Jesus is doing here, as recorded in Matthew 17:14 through Matthew 20:

… Jesus teaches the Twelve. He’s getting them ready for His death. He’s getting them ready for His departure. He’s getting them ready for their ministry. And so He’s teaching them very important truths. The emphasis of these months before His cross is not on the crowds, though there were times when He met the crowds, the emphasis is on His own, His disciples. This is their time. They are the object of His teaching.

Contrasting this with the temple tax episode just before this exchange, MacArthur tells us:

… this is not the believer’s relationship in the world, but the believer’s relationship in the family. And so, on the same day they get a tremendous insight into how they are to operate as citizens of the world and how they are to operate as children of God.

However, Jesus’s answer, complete with child, still does not resolve the issue of temporal greatness among them:

If you were to go over to the twentieth chapter of Matthew … you would find they’re still debating about this and James and John, in the twentieth chapter around verse 20 to 28, send their mother to Jesus and they say through their mother, “Well, could my boys be the chief ones in the Kingdom?”

And in case you just want to lay all the blame on James and John, you might want to know that the Bible also tells us that all the rest of them were filled with envy and jealousy. They were all having the same problem. They just didn’t all have a mother around who would do what James and John’s mother did. So they were all in the same boat.

And you want to know something that’s really sad? The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, they were arguing about the same thing still. I mean, they just never bothered to get in on the fact that Jesus was going to die and demonstrate a little sympathy and a little care and a little comfort toward the one who would bear the sins of the world. They never came to that, to the very night before He died, they were still arguing about who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom. I mean, they were really stuck on that issue. Ambition, pride, selfishness, self‑glory were behind the discord, the dissension and the in‑fighting among the Twelve.

Let us remember this lesson the next time we are tempted to be first or to be great, especially in a church context. Our Lord humbled Himself to come to earth, mingle among sinful mankind, then die on the cross in order to redeem us. He gave us the greatest lesson in humility, humility, humility throughout His earthly life from start to finish. May we never forget it.

In closing, some may wonder if there is a difference between Gospel references to the ‘kingdom of God’ and the ‘kingdom of heaven’. MacArthur provides this analysis:

You say, “Why the different titles?” Very simple. The Kingdom of God emphasizes the ruler. The Kingdom of heaven emphasizes the character of His ruling. It is God who rules that Kingdom and He rules it with heavenly principles and heavenly power and heavenly majesty and heavenly blessing, as opposed to that which is earthly.

So, what Jesus is talking about is the Kingdom of heaven insofar as it means the rule and reign of God, the dominion of God, the sphere of God’s influence and God’s power and God’s rule and God’s blessing coming into the Kingdom of the Lord, coming into the sphere of God, coming in to eternal life, if you will, being saved, being redeemed, belonging to God, under His dominion. So, the concept of Kingdom of heaven simply means God’s sphere of rule.

Now when you see the term “Kingdom of heaven,” in the book of Matthew and you see it many, many times, as I said, there are many facets to that dominion of God, that sphere of God’s rule, many facets. And when you see the phrase, you must carefully look at the context to help you to understand what facet of that Kingdom is in view.

For example, if you were to look at chapter 25 and verse 1, here you read, “Then shall the Kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins,” and you remember the virgins who had the lamps, five had them ready and five didn’t when the Lord returned. Now there you have the Kingdom of heaven relating to the return of Christ to set up His Kingdom. So it is the millennial aspect of the Kingdom of heaven in view in chapter 25. The future thousand year reign of Christ on the earth, that’s in view with that use of Kingdom of heaven …

So, sometimes the Kingdom of heaven can refer to eternity. Sometimes it can refer to the millennial earth, sometimes it can refer to the influence of Christianity on the world. Sometimes it can refer to the sphere of Christianity which includes the true and the false. Sometimes it refers to the personal appropriation of the Kingdom, that is coming into the Kingdom personally, receiving Christ, being redeemed, being saved in the genuine sense …

And now we can turn back to chapter 18. And I believe what the Lord is saying here is again relative to the personal appropriation of the Kingdom. He is not talking here about entering the Millennium, He’s not talking here particularly about entering the eternal state, although those are all inherent in this because they will be the final end of all of those who are in the Kingdom. He’s not talking about the true and the false existing within the sphere of Christian influence and the influence of the Kingdom. He’s not talking about its influence on the world externally. He here is saying if you want to really genuinely enter in to God’s Kingdom, if you want to become one of His subjects, one of His followers, a child of God, a Son of God, redeemed and saved and born again, it is a parallel, if you will, to the third chapter of John’s gospel, it’s another way to talk about regeneration and the new birth.

So, the aspect of the Kingdom of heaven in view here is personal appropriation, entering in to God’s Kingdom by believing, receiving salvation. And I think that’s clear from the context, it can’t mean anything else. So, let’s talk about that. We then know what the Kingdom of heaven is, let’s talk about entering the Kingdom of heaven because He says in verse 3, “Except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter.”

It is a happy coincidence that this passage from Matthew came up for Exaudi Sunday, between Ascension Day and Pentecost, even if some will be reading it on Saturday. It tells us how much the apostles and disciples needed the Holy Spirit’s gifts and guidance — and how much we need them, too. Something for us to reflect on with thanksgiving in the week ahead.

Next time: Matthew 18:5-6

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 17:24-27

The Temple Tax

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.[a] Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”


This scene no doubt took place at Peter’s house, where Jesus stayed when He was in Capernaum.

The temple tax was a religious tax and not a Roman one.

John MacArthur says it was first recorded in the Book of Exodus (emphases mine):

In Exodus chapter 30 when the tabernacle was established and it was carried from there to the temple, God gave a law through Moses. And the Lord spoke unto Moses,” Exodus 30:11, “When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord.” How much, verse 13 says, “Half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary.” A half shekel shall be the offering to the Lord. Verse 15 says, “They shall not give more if they’re rich, they shall not give less if they’re poor when they make an offering to the Lord, half shekel for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation that it may be a memorial to the children of Israel before the Lord to make atonement for your souls.” Half shekel.

Now Nehemiah reduced it to a third shekel when they came back from captivity because they were so poor. But the half shekel had been reinstituted and in this particular temple in Jerusalem, there was a half shekel temple tax that had to be paid by every Jewish male and had to be paid annually. And, by the way, if you didn’t pay it, they took compensation out of your personal belongings.

As for the word ‘two-drachma’, or ‘didrachma’ in some translations, and Jewish term ‘stater’, meaning ‘half a shekel’, he explains:

Now the term used here is didrachma. And basically a half a shekel, that’s a Jewish concept, was equal to two Greek drachmas, d-r-a-c-h-m-a-e, two Greek drachmas. And the tax then became known as the double drachma, or the didrachma, that’s the Greek term. And that is the one…it basically represents two days wages. That is the tax they were after. The half-shekel which equals the didrachma in Greek coinage.

And so, they came to collect that. Now commonly speaking, it was customary because there was no double didrachma in Greek coinage, they had the term but the economy had inflated to the point where they didn’t have didrachma. So what they used was a stater. And the stater was equal to two didrachma, or four drachma. Are you with me? So people would normally go together and pay one stater, and that would cover their temple tax.

However, Matthew Henry says that this tax was not insisted upon so much in Galilee. Therefore, when the temple tax collectors asked Peter whether Jesus paid the tax (verse 24), it was not meant as an attack but as a genuine, respectful enquiry — so much so that they did not want to bother Him, so they asked Peter. The tax collectors knew of Jesus, possibly witnessed His teachings and miracles, and thought He might be exempt from paying the tax:

The demand was very modest[;] the collectors stood in such awe of Christ, because of his mighty works, that they durst not speak to him about it, but applied themselves to Peter, whose house was in Capernaum, and probably in his house Christ lodged he therefore was fittest to be spoken to as the housekeeper, and they presumed he knew his Master’s mind …

they asked this with respect, intimating, that if he had any privilege to exempt him from this payment, they would not insist upon it.

Peter answered ‘Yes’, meaning that Jesus paid His taxes (verse 25). MacArthur reminds us that His is our example to follow:

There are people who are Christian people who don’t pay taxes. They don’t think they have any reason to pay taxes, they don’t like what’s done with their money and so forth and so they don’t pay. And some of them get away with it because the government knows that to prosecute and track them all down and go through the fight would be to lose more money than you would gain. But Jesus, does He pay taxes? Verse 25, “Peter said yes…yes, Jesus always pays His didrachma.” And you can imply from that that He always paid His taxes…always. Jesus is not a tax evader. He’s not a tax dodger.

Peter went indoors and Jesus asked him if kings taxed their own sons or other people. He was asking whether God would tax His Son. Peter replied that taxes came from other people, and Jesus affirmed that kings’ sons do not pay it (verse 26). The implication is that He is actually exempt from paying temple tax.

However, in order ‘not to give offence’ (verse 27), Jesus told Peter to go to the Sea of Galilee, take the first fish he caught and give the coin in its mouth to the tax collectors. The shekel would cover both Jesus’s and Peter’s temple tax.

Henry explains the possible offence given and why Jesus paid the tax:

Few knew, as Peter did, that he was the Son of God and it would have been a diminution to the honour of that great truth, which was yet a secret, to advance it now, to serve such a purpose as this. Therefore Christ drops that argument, and considers, that if he should refuse this payment, it would increase people’s prejudice against him and his doctrine, and alienate their affections from him, and therefore he resolves to pay it.

He makes this point:

Note, Christian prudence and humility teach us, in many cases, to recede from our right, rather than give offence by insisting upon it

Henry also observes that a humble fish had the coin which would go to pay for the maintenance of the temple and provide the spiritual sustenance for God’s people:

when he could have taken it out of an angel’s hand.

That Peter had to go angling in order to catch the fish signifies that:

Peter has something to do, and it is in the way of his own calling too to teach us diligence in the employment we are called to, and called in. Do we expect that Christ should give to us? Let us be ready to work for him

Peter was made a fisher of men, and those that he caught thus, came up where the heart is opened to entertain Christ’s word, the hand is open to encourage his ministers.

Finally, Jesus allowed Peter to benefit from his obedience and endeavour:

Peter fished for this money, and therefore part of it went for his use. Those that are workers together with Christ in winning souls shall shine with him. Give it for thee and me. What Christ paid for himself was looked upon as a debt what he paid for Peter was a courtesy to him. Note, it is a desirable thing, if God so please, to have wherewithal of this world’s goods, not only to be just, but to be kind not only to be charitable to the poor, but obliging to our friends. What is a great estate good for, but that it enables a man to do so much the more good?

Next time: Matthew 18:1-4

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 17:22-23

Jesus Again Foretells Death, Resurrection

22 As they were gathering[a] in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.


Matthew 17 records glorious, dramatic, emotional events: the Transfiguration, Jesus’s explanation that what happened to John the Baptist will happen to Him, the angry commotion before He healed the boy with the demon and now, a third mention of His upcoming suffering and resurrection.

In particular, imagine Peter, James’s and John’s emotions and thought processes during this time. They saw divine majesty, received confirmation of Jesus’s imminent death, then saw Him perform a creative miracle and, once more, heard Him speak of death. It must have been a day of extreme highs and lows. They had much to witness and understand.

Matthew records that Jesus spoke of His death three times in a short space of time. The first mention is Matthew 16:21-23, which is the most familiar passage for most of us (emphases mine):

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord![e] This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance[f] to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

The second time was after the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:10-13):

10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

Today’s verses contain the third mention. Jesus wants the disciples to anticipate what is coming, even if they are unable to fully grasp how horrible and how glorious those three days will be.

Jesus spoke of His fate in a passive way. He would be delivered — handed over — to men (verse 22) who will kill Him. Then, three days later, He would be raised from the dead (verse 23) — by God the Father.

If they had understood what He was saying, they would have been alarmed yet comforted. Instead, they were ‘greatly distressed’ (verse 23). Three crucial words went into one ear and out the other: ‘the third day’.

How often does this happen to us? Someone says, ‘Listen to me, because this is important’. We receive their instruction or advice, but a portion of it goes unheeded, perhaps because we are anxious or preoccupied. Later, that person comes back to say that we did not do what they said. They repeat what they said before, we then grasp the whole message and respond, ‘Thanks. I missed that the first time.’

So, the words ‘the third day’ have not registered with the disciples. Matthew Henry explains that, had they heard and understood the message fully:

This was an encouragement, not only to him, but to his disciples for if he rise the third day, his absence from them will not be long, and his return to them will be glorious.

They did not feel as if they could ask Jesus for an explanation this time lest they run the risk of a rebuke similar to Peter’s. They remained sorrowful.

John MacArthur explains:

When Jesus said He was going to die, that’s all they heard. It may well have been very much like Martha when Jesus in John 11 came to Bethany and they said Lazarus is dead, he’s been dead for four days, by now his body stinketh, and all of this. And Jesus said he’ll rise. And Martha said, “I know he’ll rise in the last day at the resurrection, what I’m concerned about is now.” And it may well have been that that’s where the disciples were. They were somewhere in Daniel 12 thinking about the fact that when Jesus said He would rise again, that sure, everybody’s going to rise someday when there’s that great resurrection. And so they missed the third day, or they didn’t understand what the third day meant or what kind of a day. So all they heard was that He was going to die. And you can imagine that three out of the twelve who had come down off the mount of transfiguration seen the resplendent glory of Jesus Christ, now they come down, they see Him use His power to heal this demoniac and they’re on cloud nine and all of a sudden now He says to them I’m going to die. And that’s all they need to hear and they’re back in the despondence of their despair. And so they’re in great despair.

The Book of Daniel attracts a fringe group of Christians unduly interested in the end times. The same are also putting more emphasis on Revelation than on the gospels and letters instructing us on leading a Christian life. The two books are similar in drama and imagery.

Note Daniel 12:8-9:

I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.

That indicates we should not obsess over the end times. Read, study and understand — then move on: ‘Go your way, Daniel’.

In closing, these are the verses in Daniel 12 to which MacArthur referred regarding the disciples’ and Martha’s understanding of the resurrection:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above;[a] and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

It is only after Jesus’s death and resurrection take place that the disciples are able to look back and understand what Jesus was telling them. MacArthur explains:

And that’s important, you see, because if He got killed and they didn’t know it was coming, and they didn’t know it was in the plan, they might look back and say, “Boy, that must have been a strange thing for God to have to deal with…never intended that.” So the Lord just tells them it’s going to happen, tells them it’s going to happen, tells them it’s going to happen. They don’t understand. When it happens, they understand, they look back and say, “Oh, that was the plan.”

Next time: Matthew 17:24-27

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 17:14-20

Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do we do? MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry’s commentary says that fasting sharpens prayer:

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

Next time: Matthew 17:22-23

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 16:28

Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”


To put this verse into context, Jesus had just told His disciples to deny worldly impulses:

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[g] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

John MacArthur explains Christian self denial:

Think of it this way. When you are neglected, unforgiven, or when you are purposely set at naught and you sting and you hurt with the insult of that oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ, that is dying to self. When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed and your advice is disregarded and your opinions are ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart or even defend yourself, you take it all patiently in loving silence, you’re dying to self.

And when you lovingly and patiently bear any disgrace, any regularity, any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with folly and extravagance and spiritual insensitivity, and endure it as Jesus did, that is dying to self. When you are content with any food, any money, any clothing, any climate, any society, any solitude, any interruption by the will of God, that is dying to self. And when you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works, or itch after commendation from others, and when you truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper and have his needs wondrously met, and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy and never question God, though your needs are greater and still unmet, that is dying to self. And when you can receive correction, and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and humbly admit inwardly as well as outwardly that he’s right and find no resentment and no rebellion in your heart, that is dying to self.

Self-denial is a tall order. It cannot be done without divine grace.

About taking up one’s cross, MacArthur tells us:

It is the willingness to endure persecution, rejection, reproach, shame, suffering, even martyrdom for His sake. That’s all.

He reminds us that the disciples would not have known Jesus was going to die on a cross. They understood His words in historical context, no less horrific:

A hundred men had been crucified in that area, not much earlier than this very event. Something about 120 years before. Antiochus Epiphanes had crucified many Jews during the reign of the Greeks in the intertestamental period. And from a revolt following the death of Herod the Great, the Roman pro‑consul Varus crucified 2,000 Jews. Crucifixion was somewhat common in the Roman Empire, somewhat common in middle Asia, somewhat common in Egypt, somewhat common in Italy. They had seen crucifixions a lot. One historian estimates 30,000 crucifixions occurred around the time of Jesus Christ.

Now when He said, “Take up your cross,” you know what they saw? They saw these poor sad condemned souls marching along the road with at least the cross beam of their own instrument of death strapped to their backs. That’s what they thought of. To them the cross meant you’re walking to death, you’re moving toward your martyrdom. That’s what it meant. And that’s what the Lord is saying. You must perceive following Me as putting on the instrument of your own execution. Because the world is going to cut you off. Not all of you will die, not all of the twelve died, but many of them did, as martyrs. But you will bear reproach and you will be ridiculed if you live for Christ. That’s what 2 Timothy 3 means, you’ll suffer persecution. So that’s what He’s saying.

Jesus then spoke of His Second Coming and Judgement Day. Matthew Henry’s advice holds true as much today as it did in the 17th century (emphases mine):

In that day, the treachery of backsliders will be punished with eternal destruction, and the constancy of faithful souls recompensed with a crown of life The best preparative for that day is to deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and follow Christ for so we shall make the Judge our Friend, and these things will then pass well in the account.

If today’s verse (Matthew 16:28) sounds familiar, the same was said of Simeon when the infant Jesus was presented at the temple 40 days after His birth (Luke 2:26):

And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Henry analysed it this way:

As Simeon was assured that he should not see death till he had seen the Lord’s Christ come in the flesh so some here are assured that they shall not taste death (death is a sensible thing, its terrors are seen, its bitterness is tasted) till they had seen the Lord’s Christ coming in his kingdom. At the end of time, he shall come in his Father’s glory but now, in the fulness of time, he was to come in his own kingdom, his mediatorial kingdom. Some little specimen was given of his glory a few days after this, in his transfiguration (Matthew 17:1) then he tried his robes. But this points at Christ’s coming by the pouring out of his Spirit, the planting of the gospel church, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the taking away of the place and nation of the Jews, who were the most bitter enemies to Christianity. Here was the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Many then present lived to see it, particularly John, who lived till after the destruction of Jerusalem, and saw Christianity planted in the world

Observe, Christ saith, Some shall live to see those glorious days, not all some shall enter into the promised land, but others shall fall in the wilderness. He does not tell them who shall live to see this kingdom, lest if they had known, they should have put off the thoughts of dying, but some of them shall …

Peter, James and John also lived to see the glory of Jesus. MacArthur says:

They saw it and they knew they saw it and Peter writes in his epistle, “I was an eye‑witness of His majesty.” He saw it.

Indeed, the next event — Matthew 17:1-9 — was the Transfiguration:

17 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Forbidden Bible Verses will resume after Easter and will discuss what Jesus said to the three apostles afterwards.

Next time: Matthew 17:10-13


Bible and crossWhen I first began my series, Forbidden Bible Verses — essential for our knowledge of Jesus Christ but excluded from the much-lauded three-year Lectionary for public worship — I chose Bible passages at random, often prompted by something I wanted to know more about.

By 2011, I started going through the Gospels book by book in an expository manner so that I could better understand our Lord’s ministry and what He expects of us.

Before that, in 2010, I posted on Matthew 16:1-12, which I am reprising — and recommending to you today. The post looks at the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ challenge to Jesus for ‘a sign’ and His rebuke, which involved a reference to Jonah, duly explained. He then warned His disciples against the ‘leaven’ of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

A similar passage for the first four verses, but involving only the Pharisees, can be found in Mark 8:11-13, which I wrote about in 2012.

Next time: Matthew 16:28

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 15:32-39

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.


In last week’s reading, we read how Jesus healed many Gentiles who then worshipped the God of Israel, the God they had not known until then. These people — from the Greek-administered Decapolis — had been worshipping Greek gods. This period of divine, miraculous healing took three days.

The parallel passage for today’s reading is Mark 8:1-10, about which I wrote in 2012.

Neither of these readings is in the three-year Lectionary which many Catholic and Protestant churches use. If one’s only Bible study relies on this Lectionary (there is also a two-year one), one is missing out on quite a lot. One would not know that Jesus took care of the Gentiles in the same merciful, miraculous way He did the Jews.

By the end of those three marvellous days, the Gentiles needed to eat. Jesus, in His compassion and omniscience, was fully aware of that and, in order to prevent them fainting on the way home, would not send them away without a goodly amount of sustenance (verse 32).

Matthew Henry explains that hunger could have not only had physical consequences but also spiritual ones:

The weakness of the flesh is a great grievance to the willingness of the spirit.

The disciples recognised they were in the same predicament as they were in the feeding of the 5,000  (Matthew 14:13-21). Of verse 33, John MacArthur tells us that their reaction to feeding the 4,000 is has changed (emphases mine):

Before when they said, “What are we gonna do? We don’t even have enough to give everybody a little tiny morsel.” Now, from that experience, they know that when the Lord feeds, He fills everybody; so they say, “If you’re looking at us again, we’re in the same boat we were in last time You asked us that. We don’t have anything to fill this crowd.” The point being, in a wilderness area, and this is a desert area, away from these towns, there was no resource. This crowd could only have been serviced in proximity to a large city where the food could’ve gathered. There was no such proximity, and so I think the emphasis is not here on their unbelief, but on their recognition of their lack of resources. And they’re simply saying, “Here we go again, Lord. We have nothing to offer You.”

They have faith that Jesus will provide for the crowd. They are also fully aware that only He can do it.

Jesus asked what food was available and the disciples replied that they had seven loaves and a few small fish (verse 34). Henry’s commentary says:

The provision that was at hand seven loaves, and a few fishes: the fish not proportionable to the bread, for bread is the staff of life. It is probable that the fish was such as they had themselves taken for they were fishers, and were now near the sea.

Jesus instructed the crowd to sit while He took the loaves and fishes, gave thanks and asked the disciples to distribute the food (verses 35, 36). Of the thanks Jesus gave to God the Father, Henry explains that we, too, should follow His example:

He first gave thankseucharistesas. The word used in the former miracle was eulogesehe blessed. It comes all to one giving thanks to God is a proper way of craving a blessing from God. And when we come to ask and receive further mercy, we ought to give thanks for the mercies we have received.

MacArthur tells us how the miracle might well have transpired to feed 4,000 men as well as thousands of women and children (verse 38) to ensure that food was leftover for Jesus and the disciples (verse 37):

This is just thrilling. They come with these baskets, and He keeps filling the baskets, and they keep delivering. And they come back, and He keeps filling ’em again, and they deliver it; and He’s just creating it right out of His own hands. And again and again He continues to fill the baskets, and they continue to pass among the people who are no doubt seated in groups of 50 or 100 or whatever….and then verse 37 says, “They did all eat, and they were filled.” Again, the Lord never leaves them half full. “Took up the broken pieces, remnants left, seven baskets full. And they that did eat were 4,000 men, besides women and children.” Satisfied everybody, and they got seven baskets full.

Those who read the Bible regularly know that after feeding the 5,000 Jews (and thousands more women and children), that 12 baskets were left over. With the 4,000 Gentiles, seven baskets remained.

MacArthur describes the nature of the baskets. In short, Jewish baskets were smaller than Gentile ones:

This is kind of important. The first feeding had how many baskets? Twelve, one for each disciple, right? Here you have seven…Why the difference? Very, very interesting. The word in chapter 14 verse 20 is kofanass. That’s a little basket. And, by the way, that was a Jewish basket. That was a basket used by the Jews. It normally was a little round thing. It had a little sort of a spout on one end you could stick things in; and the Jew carried this around with him when he traveled for several reasons. It was easy, because there was sometimes no way to get access to a place to provide food, and so you carried it with yourself. And, also, the Jew is really fearful of getting any food that had been touched by Gentile hands; and so they tended to take their own, which had been, you know, treated and…and done their own way.

And so the Jews carried the little kofanass, this little basket with one meal in it. But the word used here is not kofanass. It’s spurdiss, and that is a Gentile basket. It’s a hamper. It’s a big basket; and the interesting thing is that every time the New Testament talks about the feeding of the 5,000, whatever Gospel account it’s in, it always uses kofanass, and every time it refers to the 4,000, it always uses spurdiss.

When He was feeding the Jews, the Jews had Jewish baskets. When He was feeding the Gentiles, the Gentiles had Gentile baskets; and the Gentile basket was big. You say, “How big was it?” I’ll you how big it was. Acts 9 tells us it was the same basket, spurdiss, with which the Apostle Paul was lowered over the wall in Damascus. It was big enough to put a whole person in. So it’s a big basket.

So the Lord then gave the food into these big baskets; and they took them and distributed them; and then in collecting they took all that they needed back in seven big baskets. And they may have needed more than they did the first time, because they hadn’t eaten this time for three days, not just one day. So the Lord provided for the crowd.

Verse 39 tells us that after the crowd had eaten and were full, Jesus dismissed them and went by boat to Magadan.

My discussion of Mark 8:1-10 describes Magadan — or Dalmanutha, as he called it — in much more detail. Despite the two different names, they are the same region. MacArthur says that Mary Magdalen came from there. It was in Galilee, near Gennesaret.

If Gennesaret rings a bell, Matthew 14:34-36 describes Jesus’s second ministry there. The first was when He healed the woman of her 12-year blood flow after she grabbed the hem of His garment (Matthew 9:18-26). Neither account of her miracle is in the three-year Lectionary. More’s the pity.

Henry concludes this compassionate, merciful period of creative miracles for the Gentiles as follows:

He sent away the people. Though he had fed them twice, they must not expect miracles to be their daily bread. Let them now go home to their callings, and to their own tables. And he himself departed by ship to another place for, being the Light of the world, he must be still in motion, and go about to do good.

Next time — Matthew 16:1-4

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 15:29-31

Jesus Heals Many

29 Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. 30 And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.


After Jesus expressed the truth about what defiles a person, He and the disciples left for Gentile territory in Tyre and Sidon.

There He healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter of a demon (Matthew 15:21-28).

Verse 29 says that, afterwards, He continued to the Sea of Galilee to what was then Decapolis, still among the Gentiles who worshipped Greek gods. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

It would’ve taken Him some weeks to have gone through Tyre and Sidon, east over the Hermann Range, across the Jordan, south again on the eastern bank, and down to Decapolis; and so He’s been ministering for some length of time among these who are Gentiles

And so we come then to Decapolis. Decapolis is on the southeast edge of the Sea of Galilee. It’s not far from the area known as Gadara where Jesus, you remember, delivered two demoniacs and sent the demons into the herd of swine.

Those unfamiliar with the accounts of the Gadarene Swine might find these posts useful:

Matthew 8:28-34 – Gadarene swine, miracle, demons, Jesus

Luke 8:26-33 – Gadarene Swine, demons, Jesus, Legion, pigs

Luke 8:34-39 – Gadarene Swine, Jesus, sin, miracle, healing

Mark’s account —  Mark 5:1-20 — is in the three-year Lectionary.

Now more from MacArthur on Decapolis:

It’s the southern end of the modern Golan Heights. It’s not far, frankly, from a little kibbutz where you may have eaten St. Peter’s fish if you’ve been there, just after you’ve crossed the Sea of Galilee in a little boat, a very familiar spot.

Decapolis means ten cities. Deca is ten, polis is city. There were ten little cities there, small ones. They were wedged in between two territories, really, under Jewish domination. One controlled by Philip the tetrarch, and the other controlled by Herod Antipas, and in the middle was this wedge called Decapolis. And these ten cities were each free Greek cities. The Greeks were big into free city states; and these, each of them, were free; and they were under sort of an overall sovereignty by the governor of Syria. They were not under the rule of Israel or any of its monarchs. And so they were Greeks or Gentiles, sort of wedged in the middle of that Jewish part of the world.

Archeologists who have searched the area have found statues and monuments to Zeus and Athena and Artemis, and Hercules, and Dionysius, and Demeter, and many other Greek gods. So they were into Greek paganism full-blown…and Jesus came there.

These Gentiles would have known who Jesus was, because Matthew 4:24-25 tells us that His fame had spread as far away as Syria. Prior to this, people had travelled for weeks to Capernaum — a great trading centre for foreign lands — to be healed or to have their relatives cured. That is why Jesus based Himself there. Now He has left the Jews to go to the Gentiles.

Although Jesus was sitting on a mountain, crowds of people went with their sick for His compassionate, immediate and complete healing. The people laid the sick at His feet. He healed all in need of it (verse 30). MacArthur describes the scene:

It says at the end of verse 30, “He healed them,” and that statement is so profound; and it almost passes by unnoticed. “He healed them.” And you feel like you ought stop and scream or something to get everyone’s attention. It says also in this text that…it says, “They put them down at His feet.” Some manuscripts say Jesus’ feet, some say His feet. The verb there is to fling in haste.

We will see in next week’s post that there were 4,000. However, as only men were counted in those days, there were thousands more when one factors in women and children:

You can see that 4,000 men — it tells us how many were there later on — plus women, and you can imagine another, I don’t know, anywhere from 4 to 5 to 10,000 women and who knows how many thousand children — 20,000 would not be a small estimate. And they’re all coming, and it says, “They’re all throwing these people at His feet.” Can you imagine the chaos of this? I mean they were not orderly. They were not in line. They were just getting there in a frantic, knowing He could heal, hoping they would be one that He would heal; and this pile of humanity is being pitched at His feet; and it just says, “He healed them.”

I mean people with no arm are going away with an arm. People who had lost their eyes were going away with eyes. People who had never spoken were speaking, and people who had never been able to walk were walking. And this was going on en masse, you see. I mean they couldn’t even look fast enough to catch them all; and the result of it was verse 31 — “The multitude thalmodzo, marveled.” I mean they were struck with absolute awe at this scene, because, you see the word thalmodzo or marveling or wonder is a word that says we have no human explanation. There is nothing in our little computers that tells us this can happen. This is not possible. This is beyond imagination. This is incredible.

And they are left with wonder and astonishment at this flurry of spontaneously occurring miracles.

Note their reaction versus that of Jesus’s own:

This pile of humanity being dumped at His feet, getting up and walking away whole, and may I submit to you that their wonder was greater than the wonder of the Jews, because the wonder of the Jews was always limited by their skepticism. It was always limited by their gross case of spiritual pride. It was always limited by the bondage of their ceremony and tradition; and the blindness that exists on Israel today was there then. But these Gentiles didn’t have that; and so when Mark writes of this in Mark 7:37, he says, “They were beyond measure astonished.” And he says that, I think, to differentiate between the astonishment of the Gentiles and the astonishment of the Jews who…who were astonished, but not to this degree, because they were so encumbered by the…the attachment to their false religion and their spiritual pride.

These Gentiles — heathens worshipping Greek gods — saw these incredible and innumerable healings and … glorified the God of Israel (verse 31).

The God in their presence through Jesus’s healings could only have been the God of Israel.

This was not an afternoon of healing, but three continuous days:

the crowd never leaves. All day long, the Lord heals and surely teaches them the things pertaining to the Kingdom, invites them to embrace Him. At night, they don’t go anywhere. They lay down on the ground, and they sleep; and when the Lord awakens in the morning with the disciples, they’re all there; and it goes on the second day and the second night they do the same thing; and the third day, they just don’t ever leave…and that brings us to verse 32.

That is where next week’s reading begins.

Matthew Henry has excellent observations worth highlighting. On Jesus’s sitting on the mountain:

Christ steps into the coast of Tyre and Sidon, but he sits down by the sea of Galilee (Matthew 15:29), sits down not on a stately throne, or tribunal of judgment, but on a mountain: so mean and homely were his most solemn appearances in the days of his flesh! He sat down on a mountain, that all might see him, and have free access to him for he is an open Saviour. He sat down there, as one tired with his journey, and willing to have a little rest or rather, as one waiting to be gracious. He sat, expecting patients, as Abraham at his tent-door, ready to entertain strangers. He settled himself to this good work.

He refused no one:

Such was the goodness of Christ, that he admitted all sorts of people[,] the poor as well as the rich are welcome to Christ, and with him there is room enough for all comers. He never complained of crowds or throngs of seekers, or looked with contempt upon the vulgar, the herd, as they are called for the souls of peasants are as precious with him as the souls of princes.

What this means for us in our infirmities:

Note, All diseases are at the command of Christ, to go and come as he bids them. This is an instance of Christ’s power, which may comfort us in all our weaknesses and of his pity, which may comfort us in all our miseries.

Next time — Matthew 15:32-39

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 15:10-20

What Defiles a Person

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides.[a] And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?[b] 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”


In last week’s passage, which immediately precedes today’s reading, the Pharisees and scribes confronted Jesus over His lenience in allowing the disciples to eat without first washing their hands.

Jesus cited Isaiah and called them hypocrites for instituting manmade laws whilst ignoring God’s Law.

It is likely that He was alone with them for that exchange. Then He turned to the people (verse 10) in order to teach them that ingesting certain foods would not defile them, but what emerged from their mouth — sinful statements from a dark heart — did defile them (verse 11).

It is interesting that neither Matthew’s nor Mark’s accounts of Jesus lifting dietary laws is included in the three-year Lectionary. What were the editors and compilers thinking? It is becoming increasingly important for Christians to know these passages to explain to those of other world religions — and even to each other. Sects such as Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons eschew all manner of food and drink in order to maintain notional spiritual purity.

Mark’s account (Mark 7:17-20), about which I wrote in 2010, actually says:

(Thus he declared all foods clean.)

The disciples then went to Jesus and asked Him if He was aware that the hierarchy were offended by His words (verse 12). They had not grasped — or refused to understand — that He was among them now. He was their Messiah. Therefore, the Old Covenant ritual purity, part of the preparation of God’s people, could now be set aside.

Jesus responded that any plant not of God’s making would be uprooted (verse 13). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

Not only the corrupt opinions and superstitious practices of the Pharisees, but their sect, and way, and constitution, were plants not of God’s planting … The people of the Jews were planted a noble vine but now that they are become the degenerate plant of a strange vine, God disowned them, as not of his planting. 

Both Henry and MacArthur say we must guard against the same thing happening in our churches. Where we find such situations, we must avoid them.

Jesus said to leave such false teachers and hypocrites — the blind — alone (verse 14). This implies that God will exercise divine judgment on them. His next sentence implies condemnation: the blind — hypocritical false teachers — leading the blind — the duped — will end up in the pit.

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

… they are not only offended by the truth, but destined for judgment …

Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares, where God sowed the wheat, and the enemy, Satan, came and sowed the tares. So He’s saying that the ones that God doesn’t plant will be rooted up, or judged. His message to them was judgment on the hypocrites. The only person that God in Christ really blasts in the New Testament, where you get the person along with the sin, is the spiritual hypocrite. For the rest, He’ll hit the sin; but in the case of the hypocrite, He’ll hit the person with his sin. So He says that they’re destined for judgment, and it’s almost the same as the parable of the wheat and the tares; they are going to get rooted up. Remember that it says they will grow together until the judgment, and then the Father will separate them. If they aren’t His, they’ll be rooted up.

Notice the beginning of verse 14, a very important statement. “Let them alone.” That is a hard statement. What does that mean? It really can be translated, “Stay away from them.” Anyone who pretends to represent the true religion, or know God, or to know the truth, but his inside is not true, stay away from him.

What does that mean? One, it’s the staying away of judgment. Hosea 4:17 says, “Ephraim has joined idols; let him alone.” It’s almost as if they are abandoned to judgment. Secondly, it’s the staying away in terms of, “Don’t you act as the judge.” Remember how we saw that in the wheat and the tares? They said, “Should we rip the tares out?” And He said, “That’s not your job; the angels will come in due time and do that. Your job is to proclaim the message of the Kingdom. We’ll take care of the judgment. Don’t try to rip them up.”

Henry has the same perspective but adds this:

They were confident that they themselves were guides of the blind (Romans 2:19,20), were appointed to be so, and fit to be so that every thing they said was an oracle and a law “Therefore let them alone, their case is desperate do not meddle with them you may soon provoke them, but never convince them.”

Peter asked for an explanation (verse 15). Jesus was somewhat exasperated that they, His closest followers, still did not understand (verse 16). However, being a patient, tireless teacher, He went on to explain.

Jesus answered by saying that it does not matter what we put into our mouths, because, eventually, we expel it and it is gone (verse 17). The crucial aspect is what emanates from the heart because it is this which eventually comes out of our mouths (verse 18).

It includes more than words. There are also evil thoughts and evil acts (verse 19). Those, He says, are what defile us. Eating with unwashed hands has nothing to do with defilement (verse 20).

Henry has a useful list of what we must avoid:

First, Evil thoughts, sins against all the commandments. Therefore David puts vain thoughts in opposition to the whole law, Psalm 119:113. These are the first-born of the corrupt nature, the beginning of its strength, and do most resemble it. These, as the son and heir, abide in the house, and lodge within us. There is a great deal of sin that begins and ends in the heart, and goes no further. Carnal fancies and imaginations are evil thoughts, wickedness in the contrivance (Dialogismoi poneroi), wicked plots, purposes, and devices of mischief to others, Micah 2:1.

Secondly, Murders, sins against the sixth commandment these come from a malice in the heart against our brother’s life, or a contempt of it. Hence he that hates his brother, is said to be a murderer he is so at God’s bar, 1 John 3:15. War is in the heart, Psalm 4:21; James 4:1.

Thirdly, Adulteries and fornications, sins against the seventh commandment these come from the wanton, unclean, carnal heart and the lust that reigns there, is conceived there, and brings forth these sins, James 1:15. There is adultery in the heart first, and then in the act, Matthew 5:28.

Fourthly, Thefts, sins against the eighth commandment cheats, wrongs, rapines, and all injurious contracts the fountain of all these is in the heart, that is it that is exercised in these covetous practices (2 Peter 2:14), that is set upon riches, Psalm 62:10. Achan coveted, and then took, Joshua 7:20,21.

Fifthly, False witness, against the ninth commandment this comes from a complication of falsehood and covetousness, or falsehood and covetousness, or falsehood and malice in the heart. If truth, holiness, and love, which God requires in the inward parts, reigned as they ought, there would be no false witness bearing, Psalm 64:6; Jeremiah 9:8.

Sixthly, Blasphemies, speaking evil of God, against the third commandment speaking evil of our neighbour, against the ninth commandment these come from a contempt and disesteem of both in the heart thence the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost proceeds (Matthew 12:31,32) these are the overflowing of the gall within.

Now these are the things which defile a man, Matthew 15:20. Note, Sin is defiling to the soul, renders it unlovely and abominable in the eyes of a pure and holy God unfit for communion with him, and for the enjoyment of him in the new Jerusalem, into which nothing shall enter that defileth or worketh iniquity. The mind and conscience are defiled by sin, and that makes every thing else so, Titus 1:15. This defilement by sin was signified by the ceremonial pollutions which the Jewish doctors added to, but understood not. See Hebrews 9:13,14,1 John 1:7.

These therefore are the things we must carefully avoid, and all approaches toward them, and not lay stress upon the washing of the hands …

All of these heinous sins are committed today in abundance, as if they are perfectly normal behaviours. We excuse them, even when we do not commit them ourselves. We say, ‘Some people can’t help it.’ No, but it shows how hard-wired we are to sin rather than hard-wired to embrace holiness.

The more we pray and the closer we stay to the Word, the less likely we are to commit these sins. Let us pray for grace so that we may have more faith and more sanctification.

Finally, it is a shame that this reading — and Mark’s — are not part of the three-year Lectionary. Christians are missing out on important lessons, not just about ritual cleanliness or food, but, more importantly, sin.

Next time — Matthew 15:29-31

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 15:1-9

Traditions and Commandments

15 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”[a] he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word[b] of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”


Last week’s post discussed Jesus’s second visit to Gennesaret, which concluded Matthew 14.

Matthew 15 opens with a religious delegation from Jerusalem who came to confront Jesus. John MacArthur says that ‘Then’ is indefinite. We do not know when this took place: possibly the same day in Gennesaret or perhaps a few days later. What we do know is that (emphases mine):

this was around the time of the Passover, according to John 6, which means this is the third Passover in the ministry of our Lord, and the fourth one was the one in which He was crucified, so there is a year of His life left.

MacArthur surmises that the religious leaders in Galilee asked the howitzers (my word) from Jerusalem to confront Him. The Galilean leaders were just as angry with Jesus as those in Jerusalem.

They asked why the disciples broke with tradition in not washing their hands before meals (verse 2). Their tradition had expanded beyond hygiene and worship considerations. MacArthur explains:

They believed, because it taught in all this material, that you had to go through ceremonial washings of your hands for two reasons. Reason number one was that if you had touched a Gentile that day, you had been defiled, and there was a prescribed ceremony to detoxify your Gentile touch. Secondly, the rabbis taught that there was a demon by the name of Shibtah, and he dwelt on people’s hands while they slept. So if they did not go through the ceremonial washings that eliminated him, they would pass him to their food and into their bodies.

This became so important to them that Rabbi Ta’anith taught, “Whosoever has his abode in the land of Israel and eats his common food with rinsed hands may rest assured that he shall obtain eternal life.” They believed that you received eternal life by going through the ceremonial rinsing of your hands.

Granted, in the Old Testament there were washings that God instituted in Exodus 19 before the people came before God; He had them wash all their garments. The priests in Leviticus 15-17 had to wash themselves before they could carry out any rites of the priesthood, but those were outward symbols of an inward reality. They had long ago slain the reality and now, they had magnified the symbols and invented their own. Nowhere in any part of Holy Scripture does God ever say to go through this kind of stuff, to rinse your hands in a ceremonial way to get rid of Gentile influence or to drown the demon Shibtah so he won’t get in your body.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us that:

it came to be practised and imposed as a religious rite and ceremony, and such a stress laid upon it …

He pointed out that some Christian clergy are also guilty of similar legalism in the Church:

This mighty zeal in so small a matter would appear very strange, if we did not still see it incident to church-oppressors, not only to be fond of practising their own inventions, but to be furious in pressing their own impositions.

Next week’s entry will provide Jesus’s direct answer to the Pharisees and scribes. However, He first wanted to probe more deeply into their hypocrisy about their counsel against caring for — honouring — one’s parents, one of God’s Ten Commandments (verses 3-6).

The parallel verses are in Mark 7:9-13, about which I wrote in 2010.

Essentially, in both Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts Jesus brought up the manmade tradition of reneging in a ‘holy’ way from providing for one’s parents. According to Jewish tradition at the time, offspring could simply say their money was ‘corban’ — destined for God via the temple and the priests. That supposedly (erroneously) excused them from any family obligation. That they were breaking divine law was secondary to observing tradition.

MacArthur explains that the only way the Jewish leaders in the Old Testament thought the Jews would obey Mosaic Law was to create all sorts of their own laws around the 613 tenets that God gave them in the Old Covenant.

In time, there were so many manmade laws obscuring the God-given ones that the situation moved from the divine to the ridiculous.

When the people turned away from God, which led to their Babylonian Captivity, they realised they had to obey Mosaic Law and the Commandments in order for Him to rescue them. It was decided that all the laws should be written down — hence, the origin of ‘scribe’ — to make the people faithful once more.

MacArthur explains that the religious leaders moved on to incorporate tradition, the by-laws of the Law:

A man by the name of Ezra fathered a whole group of people known as scribes, and the job of a scribe was to collect, collate, interpret, propagate all of these slats in this traditional fence. It kept building up, and every rabbi commented on it, and every student commented on it, and more and more stuff kept piling and piling. This is a key point that they lost the distinction between the law of God and the tradition of men; it got rubbed out, and was a big mishmash. The commentary effectively obscured the basic law of God.

By Jesus’s day, as we see in this reading, God’s law was superseded by man’s tradition. By 200 AD, there were so many traditions that Rabbi Yehuda went through all of these and committed them to writing. This collection is called the Mishnah (‘to repeat’ in Hebrew). However, the Mishnah needed interpreting, so the commentaries on it were compiled 300 years later into a separate work called the Gemara. Together, these comprise the Talmud.

To explain the rationale for so much on tradition and interpretation, the great Rabbi Hillel, who died when Jesus was a child, said that the only thing the Torah taught was how to love one’s neighbour. To know how to do this, however, one had to study tradition:

the rest is the explanation; go and learn. [5]

Back to Jesus’s indignation at the hypocrisy before Him: supposedly holy, pious men who put their own tradition above the law of God (verses 6,7).

He then referred to Isaiah 29:13 (verses 8,9):

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

Henry’s commentary explains:

A hypocrite says one thing, but thinks another. The great thing that God looks at and requires is the heart (Proverbs 23:26) if that be far from him, it is not a reasonable service and therefore not an acceptable one it is the sacrifice of fools, Ecclesiastes 5:1.

We will read the outcome of this confrontation next week.

For now, John MacArthur gives us his thoughts to contemplate:

Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll never enter My Kingdom,” and the kind of righteousness the scribes and Pharisees had was external, superficial, rules and regulations, playing around with the fence. The kind of righteousness that Jesus demanded was that of the heart, and that’s why, from there on in that passage, He says, “You say not to kill, but I say not even to be angry. I’m going deeper, to the very heart attitude. You say not to commit adultery, but I say not to even look at a woman and lust after her.”

In other words, He takes them from that external kind of behavior which they had ascribed as truth and pushes it into the heart and the attitude. That is the reason Jesus was crucified, because the ceremonialists couldn’t tolerate the religion of the heart, because their hearts were black and sinful. They were filled with the darkness and night of sin.

May our worship be true, and what God wants it to be. I guess we could say that in closing, you need to examine your heart, and look deeply within it to examine whether you love Jesus Christ with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Do you long to be with Him, in His presence, like Him, to obey Him from the heart? That is the stuff of true religion

Next time: Matthew 15:10-20

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