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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 8:5-13

The Faith of a Centurion

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,[a] ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel[b] have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

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A parallel account of this miracle is in Luke 7:1-10. I have highlighted the differences in bold:

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant[a] who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion[b] heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

Whether the centurion sought our Lord in person or sent local Jewish elders is less important than the fact that this Gentile — pagan — had not only a deep humility but true faith that Jesus was fully capable of healing the sick from a distance.

To better appreciate this miracle and the centurion’s mindset, it is useful to try and place oneself in that era. A supplicant centurion, even via emissaries, was surprising as was Jesus’s agreement to heal the servant. Matthew’s passage also includes our Lord’s prediction about the Jewish people and Gentiles.

Looking at verse 5, the backdrop is Capernaum, which Jesus had just entered. It is likely that this, as well as the cleansing of the leper, occurred shortly after He had concluded the Sermon on the Mount nearby.

A centurion approached Jesus. This was every bit as astonishing as the leper who, a short while beforehand, told Jesus that He could cleanse him if He saw it appropriate. That appeal was an exercise in humility.

Just as the leper was an outcast, so was the centurion. The centurion, a Roman military officer, would have commanded 80 to 200 men. Rome stationed centurions throughout the empire’s territories. Their presence was a constant reminder of domination.

John MacArthur says that Israel’s centurions were local men — Gentiles — therefore, pagans (emphases mine):

The soldiers of the Roman occupation army were not really sent from Rome.  They were trained in the community or the area where they were being occupied. And what they did, according to history, what they did in Palestine was they found non-Jewish people in that area and they drew them into the Roman army and trained themThis man in Capernaum was, no doubt, a soldier under the troops of Antipas. And if he was a non-Jew living in this area, it is highly likely that he was a Samaritan. And if it was bad to be a Gentile, the worst kind of Gentile was a Samaritan, because a Samaritan was a Jew who had intermarried into Gentile lines, and that was to sacrifice his Jewish heritage, the worst imaginable kind of Gentile half-breed.

So here you’ve got a guy who’s a Gentile.  He’s the worst kind of Gentile, a Samaritan.  He’s the worst kind of Samaritan.  He is a member of the occupation forces of the Roman army who are oppressing Israel.

Yet, this man, as Luke tells us, built a synagogue for his local congregation. MacArthur says the ruins of the temple still exist, even if Capernaum as a town no longer does:

He loved their nation, and he built them a synagogue in Capernaum.  I’ve been in Capernaum.  I’ve stood in the ruins of the synagogue there.  They say the footings of the synagogue came from this day, and maybe they were purchased by this very centurion.

Now back to Matthew’s account. In verse 6, the centurion appealed to our Lord, telling Him that his servant is at home ‘suffering terribly’ from paralysis.

The ESV defines ‘servant’ here as ‘bondservant’, someone who owed a debt to the master which was to be paid off through slavery. MacArthur says that the servant could have been a child:

“Lord, my, [He used the word pais in the Greek, which means my child] my child lies at home sick of the paralutikos.”  He’s a paralytic, sick of the paralysis, grievously tormented, or suffering tremendously or suffering severely.  Now, the word pais is used here, and it means child.  Luke uses the word doulos, which means bond slave. And the question comes up: Was he his child or his bond slave?  The answer is it was rather common to have a child slave in the house, a young boy. And that’s what it was, a boy servant, a boy slave. And so he says, “My boy slave is at home sick of the paralysis.”  We don’t know whether it was polio or whether it was a nervous system or brain disorder or a tumor.  We just don’t know; but he was paralyzed and in tremendous pain.

Jesus immediatly responded that He would go to the servant and heal him (verse 7). This was unthinkable in view of the Jews’ impressions of Gentiles, the lowest of the low who would never inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus would have been in the midst of a crowd, so onlookers must have been shocked or confused. MacArthur explains:

They believed that, before the kingdom came, all the Gentiles would be destroyed.  That’s right.  If you read the, some of the apocryphal literature like 2 Baruch, chapter 29, it pictures the, what they believe is going to be the great feast, where all the Jews will sit down with Messiah … The great messianic banquet; and never, for a moment, did they believe that Gentiles would be reclining at the table with them.

Furthermore:

They wouldn’t … use—a Gentile utensil.  They, they believed that Gentiles aborted their babies and threw them down the draft in the house.  Therefore, the house was polluted by a dead body, and they had all kinds of strange things that the rabbis had invented to keep them apart from the Gentiles.

For this reason, and also out of profound personal humility, the centurion declined Jesus’s gracious offer (verse 7).

Instead, he said that Jesus needed only say the word in order for the servant to be healed (verse 8).

The centurion was in awe of Jesus. He discusses his own situation — commanding soldiers — and, in this (verse 9), is saying that he recognised His authority. The unspoken subtext is that Jesus’s power and authority are infinitely greater than his own. Hence, the humility of his appeal. He dared not to invite Jesus to his home. He did not feel worthy.

Jesus immediately contrasted this Gentile’s faith and recognition with what He had found among His own people whom He came to save (verse 10).

He then issued a strong warning that many, unknown to the Jews, would inherit the kingdom of heaven (verse 11), whilst those expecting to be there would instead be cast into ‘outer darkness’ where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (verse 12).

And, as we read in John MacArthur’s analysis of the first several chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus left the Jews in order to teach and heal the Gentiles, establishing His Church among their number.

Returning to the centurion, Jesus instructed him to return home where he would find the servant healed — just as he believed (verse 13):

And the servant was healed at that very moment.

As Christians we can take several lessons from this, if not for ourselves, for others. Citations below are from Matthew Henry’s commentary.

1/ God owes us — miserable sinners that we are — no favours. May we therefore approach Him and His Son in humility and supplication for divine mercy and grace. The centurion, like the leper, recognised this. Note how they both approached Jesus. The leper: should You see fit to do so, You can heal me. The centurion: I am not worthy of Your presence in my house, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.

The centurion came to Christ with a petition, and therefore expressed himself thus humbly. Note, In all our approaches to Christ, and to God through Christ, it becomes us to abase ourselves, and to lie low in the sense of our own unworthiness, as mean creatures and as vile sinners, to do any thing for God, to receive any good from him, or to have any thing to do with him.

2/ Our Lord recognises our caring about others. The centurion’s servant was a slave who could have been put out of the house or neglected. There were many others who could have replaced him. Yet, the centurion was careful to seek Jesus’s help, even though the slave was on the bottom rung of society.

A charitable regard to his poor servant. We read of many that came to Christ for their children, but this is the only instance of one that came to him for a servant [he] sought out the best relief he could for him the servant could not have done more for the master, than the master did here for the servant.

We can extrapolate ‘servant’ for others who are equally deserving of our charity.

3/ This is also a spiritual analogy, relating to the state of the souls in our care.

We should thus concern ourselves for the souls of our children, and servants, that are spiritually sick of the palsy, the dead-palsy, the dumb palsy senseless of spiritual evils, inactive in that which is spiritually good, and bring them to the means of healing and health.

4/ May we never neglect the virtue of humility before Christ and our fellow man.

He does not say, “My servant is not worthy that thou shouldest come into his chamber, because it is in the garret ” But I am not worthy that thou shouldest come into my house. The centurion was a great man, yet he owned his unworthiness before God. Note, Humility very well becomes persons of quality. Christ now made but a mean figure in the world, yet the centurion, looking upon him as a prophet, yea, more than a prophet, paid him this respect. Note, We should have a value and veneration for what we see of God, even in those who, in outward condition, are every way our inferiors.

5/ Personal humility ties in with deep faith.

The more humility the more faith the more diffident we are of ourselves, the stronger will be our confidence in Jesus Christ.

6/ The centurion showed us that power of Christ knows no bounds.

This centurion believed, and it is undoubtedly true, that the power of Christ knows no limits, and therefore nearness and distance are alike to him. Distance of place cannot obstruct either the knowing or working of him that fills all places.

7/ Christ answers the call, whatever social status, of those with faith: leper or centurion.

Christ’s humility, in being willing to come, gave an example to him, and occasioned his humility, in owning himself unworthy to have him come. Note, Christ’s gracious condescensions to us, should make us the more humble and self-abasing before him.

8/ As was true with the Jews of Jesus’s time, not everyone who considers himself a member of the Church will be saved. We are in for some surprises:

Note, When we come to heaven, as we shall miss a great many there, that we thought had been going thither, so we shall meet a great many there, that we did not expect.

9/ Do we put our temporal comforts above our relationship with Christ? Are we in danger of putting ourselves in peril for eternity, a concept which is difficult for us to understand?

They shall be cast out from God, and all true comfort, and cast into darkness. In hell there is fire, but no light it is utter darkness[:] darkness in extremity the highest degree of darkness, without any remainder, or mixture, or hope, of light not the least gleam or glimpse of it it is darkness that results from their being shut out of heaven, the land of light they who are without, are in the regions of darkness yet that is not the worst of it, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 1. In hell there will be great grief, floods of tears shed to no purpose anguish of spirit preying eternally upon the vitals, in the sense of the wrath of God, is the torment of the damned. 2. Great indignation: damned sinners will gnash their teeth for spite and vexation, full of the fury of the Lord seeing with envy the happiness of others, and reflecting with horror upon the former possibility of their own being happy, which is now past.

With our busy schedules, let us ensure we make time to pray, even in the most unlikely places: the walk to a bus stop or railway station, when crossing the car park on the way to the office, whilst we are preparing dinner or doing household chores.

May we also develop the faith and humility of the centurion.

Next time: Matthew 8:14-17

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 8:1-4

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper[a] came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus[b] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

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This miracle took place after Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, not far from Capernaum. It also resumes the widespread healing recorded at the end of Matthew 4, which I covered in April 2015.

As we saw last week, the crowds were in awe of His authority. They followed Him afterward (verse 1). That did not indicate that all — even most — of them were going to follow His teachings. Most were merely intrigued and curious.

A leper approached our Lord (verse 2). This was unheard of. Those diagnosed with leprosy had to isolate themselves from the rest of the population and when anyone walked past say, ‘Unclean’.

Leviticus 13 details what the Lord told Moses and Aaron about leprosy. A priest had to diagnose the condition and attempt to cure it. Not every skin condition was leprosy, hence the lengthy descriptions therein of what it is and what it is not.

As a disease Matthew Henry explains leprosy’s severity, its connection to personal sin in the Old Testament and how Christ is the only One who can heal and save us (emphases in bold mine):

This is fitly recorded with the first of Christ’s miracles, 1. Because the leprosy was looked upon, among the Jews, as a particular mark of God’s displeasure: hence we find Miriam, Gehazi, and Uzziah, smitten with leprosy for some one particular sin and therefore Christ, to show that he came to turn away the wrath of God, by taking away sin, began with the cure of a leper. 2. Because this disease, as it was supposed to come immediately from the hand of God, so also it was supposed to be removed immediately by his hand, and therefore it was not attempted to be cured by physicians, but was put under the inspection of the priests, the Lord’s ministers, who waited to see what God would do. And its being in a garment, or in the walls of a house, was altogether supernatural: and it should seem to be a disease of a quite different nature from what we now call the leprosy. The king of Israel said, Am I God, that I am sent to, to recover a man of a leprosy? 2 Kings 5:7. Christ proved himself God, by recovering many from the leprosy, and authorizing his disciples, in his name, to do so too (Matthew 10:8), and it is put among the proofs of his being the Messiah, Matthew 11:5. He also showed himself to be the Saviour of his people from their sins for though every disease is both the fruit of sin, and a figure of it, as the disorder of the soul, yet the leprosy was in a special manner so for it contracted such a pollution, and obliged to such a separation from holy things, as no other disease did and therefore in the laws concerning it (Leviticus 13:1-14:57), it is treated, not as a sickness, but as an uncleanness[;] the priest was to pronounce the party clean or unclean, according to the indications: but the honour of making the lepers clean was reserved for Christ, who was to do it as the High Priest of our profession he comes to do that which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, Romans 8:3.

Note that the leper knelt before Jesus and said that He had the power to cleanse him, should He see fit to do so (verse 2). It is possible that, even though he was not allowed to go anywhere or interact with anyone, he overheard conversations about Jesus from passersby.

Jesus responded by touching the leper (verse 3). This was also unheard of. Leprosy is highly contagious. He then verbally agreed to the man’s request: ‘I will; be clean’.

The man was completely cleansed straightaway. This was true of all of our Lord’s healing — what theologians refer to as creative — miracles. People were restored to immediate full health.

From a physical and social perspective, the Gospels show us our Lord’s temporal mercy. The leper, and others, had disorders which prevented them from engaging with life and people.

From a spiritual perspective, the appeals from the afflicted and resulting creative miracles show that only Christ has the power to deliver us from sin.

Matthew Henry explains:

Sin is the leprosy of the soul[;] it shuts us out from communion with God, to which that we maybe restored, it is necessary that we be cleansed from this leprosy, and this ought to be our great concern. Now observe, It is our comfort when we apply ourselves to Christ, as the great Physician, that if he will, he can make us clean and we should, with an humble, believing boldness, go to him and tell him so. That is, (1.) We must rest ourselves upon his power we must be confident of this, that Christ can make us clean. No guilt is so great but that there is a sufficiency in his righteousness to atone for it no corruption so strong, but there is a sufficiency in his grace to subdue it. God would not appoint a physician to his hospital that is not par negotio–every way qualified for the undertaking. (2.) We must recommend ourselves to his pity we cannot demand it as a debt, but we must humbly request it as a favour “Lord, if thou wilt. I throw myself at thy feet, and if I perish, I will perish there.”

Jesus instructed the cleansed man to go to the priest, without talking to anyone else beforehand, and offer the requisite sacrifice (verse 4).

Did the man do so? Mark 1:40-45, a three-year Lectionary reading, tells us that he couldn’t stop himself from telling others about his cleansing.

Luke 5:12-16, which I wrote about in July 2013, does not say whether the leper went to the priest or whether he told anyone else about it. In any case, word spread rapidly, necessitating Jesus’s retreat to desolate areas as He was besieged by crowds. My post on Luke’s account of the leper’s cleansing cites John MacArthur’s sermon in which he surmised that Jesus might have wanted the man to go to the priests for some breathing space. It would have taken them a week, in line with Leviticus 13, to pronounce the man as being cleansed.

John MacArthur gave his sermon on Matthew’s account of the leper in the 1970s. He says that what we call leprosy today is actually Hansen‘s Disease. Whilst the two are somewhat different, they are also similar:

Diseases can take different forms.  Some can be eliminated altogether, and so we don’t really know if it was exactly the same. But it seems best to assume, from the description of Leviticus 13 … that it was extremely similar; and the only real comparison that we can draw to whatever this disease was will come from our understanding of the disease of leprosy.  Throughout the history of study of these things, most people have drawn that parallel

This disease, leprosy, as it’s called in the Bible, was no doubt picked up in Egypt.  Most of the classic writers feel that leprosy originated in Egypt and, by the way, it is caused—they now know in medical science—by a bacillus or bacteria called mycobacterium leprae.  And this disease has been found in at least one mummy that’s been uncovered in Egypt and it’s manifest on the physical body (because of the mummification) that this particular person did have leprosy. So we know it stretches way back into ancient times.  This disease then, of course, as the children of Israel were in the land of Egypt, was transmitted to them; and when they came into the Promised Land, they carried this disease with them.

Now, it was a problem, because of the horror of the disease itself. And so God, as he built in many laws to the life of Israel to protect them from plagues and things, gave them laws to deal with leprosy, so they would not contract this disease. 

MacArthur also told his congregation that Hansen’s Disease exists in the United States. This was its status in the 1970s:

By the way, you might also be interested to note that it is on the rise in the United States of America, and the state that leads America in incidents of leprosy is CaliforniaTen years ago, we had thirty to forty new cases a year, and now we’re over 300.  So it can be controlled also today by what is called DDS Dapsone, I think it’s called.  It’s some kind of a drug that is used, and it can only control the superficial elements of leprosy.  It can’t eliminate it altogether, because it’s one disease that you can’t kill.  It’s there till you die, as far as they can tell.  There may be some cases, but normally, that’s the way it runs.

His sermon explains how it is contracted today:

Leprosy is passed—and I read this just in an up-to-date LA Times journal thing on, on the, on the medical analysis of Hans[e]n’s disease—leprosy is passed when it is inhaled through the airIt comes from the mouth into the mouth.  That’s one way it is passed, and that’s why, when he goes around, he covers his mouth.  Also, they found that people have contracted leprosy when they have both touched the same object; that the bacillus can exist on the same object.  For example, they have cases where people have gone in to get tattooed, and when they were tattooed by the same needle, they came up with the same kind of leprosy

This is what happens:

The first thing that leprosy does, it attacks—apart from its physical symptoms, what you see, the patchiness and so forth—it attacks the nervous system and immediately anesthetizes the limbs.

People say, “Well, their noses just fall off, and their fingers fall off.”  Not really.  Part of the problem is, when they lose all their feeling, they literally rub their extremities off.  They found in the leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, in the United States, that when they’ve studied people who have leprosy that this is what happened.  For example, a man who has leprosy has ill-fitting shoes, and because he can’t feel that they’re ill-fitting at all, they rub his toes off.  And a woman who works with her hands finds that she rubs her fingers off, because she has no sensitivity to what’s happening to her hands.  And they rub their faces the same way; and you add to that that leprosy further attacks the bone marrow.  It infects, then, the blood supply. The bones begin to shrivel, and as the bones shrivel, they draw the skin and the tissue in so that they appear to have fingers like claws and feet like claws that do the same thing.  And there is then that oozing that occurs, as well as the skin disease has its infection; and all of that combined when, when you use those infected, atrophying fingers, results in rubbing them off.  Horrible thing.  They literally lose their limbs.

It attacks the eyes and brings blindness, the teeth, and they fall out.  It attacks the internal organs so that sterility occurs.  Frankly, it’s not that painful. It’s just the most ugly thing imaginable in the world.  Starts with a white or pink patch on the brow, the ear, the, the nose, the chin or the cheek.  Then it begins to spread and becomes spongy, tumorous, bulbous, swellings all over the face.  Then it becomes systemic, and that’s when it begins to come into the liver and the bone marrow, the blood supply.  You lose your feeling, blindness.

Leprous suppurations emit a strong, unpleasant odour, repulsive to those around them.

We can well understand how it is seen to be a curse. Sin, too, is a curse. Our only Physician is Christ our Lord:

I see in this an analogy.  This text, to me, is analogous to a conversion.  Follow this thought in conclusion: leprosy, ceremonial unclean, demonstration of sin, it’s just like sin.  Sin is pervasive.  Sin is ugly.  Sin is loathsome.  Sin is communicable.  Sin is incurable.  Sin makes you an outcast. But the leper came with confidence.  Why?  Because he got desperate enough over his leprosy, right?  That’s how conversion happens.  People don’t get saved unless they get desperate over the loathsomeness of the disease of sin.  And, beloved, that is so missing in the evangelism of our time.  The man came.  He lost all the social stigma.  He lost all of the fear of being ostracized.  He didn’t care about that anymore.  He was overwhelmed with the loathsomeness of his disease.  Coming to Christ is not getting on the bandwagon.  It’s being wretched and knowing it.

Next time: Matthew 8:5-13

Bible openThe 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 7:28-29

The Authority of Jesus

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

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These verses conclude the Sermon on the Mount recounted in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

Jesus’s final Sermon on the Mount message, which I’ll go into tomorrow, was the instruction to build one’s house on a solid foundation of rock rather than an unstable one of sand (Matthew 7:24-27). It is an analogy of faith, obedience and salvation contrasted with one of hypocrisy and condemnation.

Afterward, Matthew’s Gospel tells us the ‘crowds were astonished at his teaching’ in this greatest of sermons (verse 28) and sensed His ‘authority’, very much unlike what emanated from what their scribes (verse 29).

These are positive and negative verses. In one sense, they are encouraging to read. On the other hand, they also point to rejection.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Now, 1. They were astonished at this doctrine it is to be feared that few of them were brought by it to follow him: but for the present, they were filled with wonder. Note, It is possible for people to admire good preaching, and yet to remain in ignorance and unbelief to be astonished, and yet not sanctified.

And:

2. The reason was because he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. The scribes pretended to as much authority as any teachers whatsoever, and were supported by all the external advantages that could be obtained, but their preaching was mean, and flat, and jejune: they spake as those what were not themselves masters of what they preached: the word did not come from them with any life or force they delivered it as a school-boy says his lesson but Christ delivered his discourse, as a judge gives his charge. He did indeed, dominari in conscionibus–deliver his discourses with a tone of authority his lessons were law his word a word of command. Christ, upon the mountain, showed more true authority, than the scribes in Moses’s seat. Thus when Christ teaches by his Spirit in the soul, he teaches with authority. He says, Let there be light, and there is light.

John MacArthur preached on these verses in the 1970s:

What was the response this day?  A great revival, tremendous conversions?  No.  Verse 28, “It came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were – ” converted.  No?  No they weren’t converted.  They were “astonished; For he taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes.”  All they did was analyze it

They were astonished.  We could use a lot of words for that.  It means they were awed, they were amazed, the were dumbfounded, they were bewildered.  But I looked it up in the Greek text, and it literally means they were struck out of themselves or they were struck out of their senses.  In the vernacular, it blew their minds

It blew them away that anybody could stand up there and say all of those things with such power, exousia, authority, such power, such dynamic and not do it like the scribes.  And how did the scribes do it?  They just quoted other people.  They were fallible and they stacked up a lot of other fallible people as their source.  Jesus just flat out said it, and it blew them away. 

They had never heard such wisdom, they had never seen such depth, they had never understood such scope.  Every dimension of human life was touched in an economy of words that was breathtaking.  They had never heard such deep insight into the law of God or the sin of man.  They had never heard such fearful warnings about hell, hellfire and judgment. 

They had never heard anybody who so confronted the religious leaders of the time.  They were utterly shocked that He didn’t use anybody else as an authority but seemed to stand upon His own authority.  And that’s where it ends.  They were shocked

But that’s not the way it ought to end for you.  You should be more than shocked, more than amazed.  You should be converted.  That’s what Jesus is after.  They never heard anybody speak the truth like He did.  They never heard anybody speak of divine matters with such clarity.  They never heard anybody speak with such love.  They never heard anybody speak with such absolute utter and total power and authority. 

But they didn’t respond the right way.  I mean, they couldn’t believe that a Man would say He was the fulfillment of the law, that a Man would say He was the determiner of righteousness, that a Man would say He was the corrector of the scribes and Pharisees.  They couldn’t believe that a Man would claim to be the way of life, that a Man would claim to be God Jehovah, that a Man would claim to be judge of all, the one who could come and make judgment on everybody.  They couldn’t believe that a Man like this could say He was the King.  And all they got was astonishment

The Sermon on the Mount is much more than the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule. It includes many difficult teachings which should reach all of us at our core. It should point to our examining our own spiritual state. It should encourage us to ask ourselves whether we are truly obedient to Christ’s teachings.

Do we accept some and not others? If so, can we call ourselves Christians? Do our lives reflect obedience or rejection?

Whilst much of the Sermon on the Mount is in the three-year Lectionary, some passages are not. I have written about these over the past few months. What follows is a recap with links. All can be found on my Essential Bible Verses page:

Matthew 5:25-26 – anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – adultery, divorce, marriage

Matthew 6:7-15 – Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:22-23 – the eye lamp of the body

Matthew 7:1-6 – judging others, pearls before swine

Matthew 7:7-11 – ask and you shall receive

Matthew 7:12-14 – Golden Rule, enter by the narrow gate, wide gate leads to destruction

Matthew 7:15-20prophets, sheep’s clothing, ravenous wolves, pastors, clergy, a tree and its fruit

May we study and meditate on these. If we haven’t already, may we experience true conversion and obedience.

Next time: Matthew 8:1-4

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘Beware of False Prophets’, Parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 7:15-20

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

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These verses are part of the Sermon on the Mount, the content of which is in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

This passage ties in with and follows on from last week’s, which concerns the narrow gate.

Jesus tells His audience to beware of false prophets (verse 15) who come in an agreeable appearance — sheep’s clothing — but who are, in reality,  ravenous wolves, evil and soul-destroying.

John MacArthur unpacks what our Lord means. ‘Beware’ is (emphases mine):

a severe word.  Literally, in the Greek it means, hold your mind back from.  Don’t ever expose your mind to the influence of a false prophet.  Don’t pay attention to, give heed to, follow, notice, devote yourself, don’t even put your mind in his vicinity.  They’re dangerous, they pervert the mind, they poison the soul.  You see, we see the results of what they do in 2 Peter: “Many people follow their pernicious ways.” 

He explains ‘sheep’s clothing':

The wool of the sheep, when it was sheared, was made into cloth for garments; the mark of a shepherd was he wore a wool cloak.  Israel is much like California; the evenings are very cold, even in the summer it cools down, and they needed that.  The idea is not that he comes dressed like a sheep; the idea is that he comes dressed like a what?  Shepherd, wearing the garment made from the sheep. Sheep’s clothing is just another term for wool.  And so as the false prophet wore the garment of the prophet, the false shepherd wears the garment of the shepherd.  It isn’t that we’re dealing with a sheep who’s infiltrated, it is that we’re dealing with a shepherd who has infiltrated. 

Britain’s left-wing Fabian Society has a stained glass window which has a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing (image here, above the globe the men are forging). Admittedly, that is a secular image, yet they’re being honest about themselves! Avoid them and all their works, including the Labour Party and London School of Economics! But, I digress.

In verse 16, Jesus says that we will recognise them by their fruits and asks His audience, by way of simple illustration, whether grapes can be gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles. It is impossible. He develops this further by discussing good and bad fruit (verse 17), the former coming from healthy trees and the latter from diseased ones (verse 18).

Diseased trees are cut down and burned (verse 19). In other words, false prophets will be eternally condemned.

Therefore, we can judge prophets — these days, clergy — by their fruits (verse 20). Those bearing bad fruit might be greedy or lustful.

Just as bad if not worse, and increasingly common these days, are those who lead us from the narrow gate. Are they preaching salvation? Are they telling us to repent? Are they encouraging us to examine our sin? Are they preaching Christ crucified? Are they presenting Christ biblically in their sermons? Are they teaching us about the doctrines of grace and mercy? If not, they are wolves.

Liberation theology, economic justice, environmental worship, syncretism (combining other deities with Christianity) and many more postmodern aberrations are signs of wolves.

We have many wolves in our midst, sometimes whole denominations full of errant clergy taught at seminaries which promote false, worldly, un-Christian, unbiblical teachings.

In many ways, many clergy of our era are rather similar to Christ’s era with self-righteous, false, dangerous Pharisees and scribes. Whilst the Jewish leaders of our Lord’s day prescribed legalism for everyone but had lax rules for themselves, our clergy teach us that anything goes. Both are equally bad. Our errant clergy are responsible for leading their flocks to eternal condemnation, unless those people pray for discernment and leave for another congregation with a true shepherd.

In closing, Matthew Henry has this advice for evaluating clergy:

What do they tend to do? What affections and practices will they lead those into, that embrace them? If the doctrine be of God, it will tend to promote serious piety, humility, charity, holiness, and love, with other Christian graces but if, on the contrary, the doctrines these prophets preach have a manifest tendency to make people proud, worldly, and contentious, to make them loose and careless in their conversations, unjust or uncharitable, factious or disturbers of the public peace if it indulge carnal liberty, and take people off from governing themselves and their families by the strict rules of the narrow way, we may conclude, that this persuasion comes not of him that calleth us, Galatians 5:8. This wisdom is from above, James 3:15. Faith and a good conscience are held together, 1 Timothy 1:19,3:9. Note, Doctrines of doubtful disputation must be tried by graces and duties of confessed certainty: those opinions come not from God that lead to sin: but if we cannot know them by their fruits, we must have recourse to the great touchstone, to the law, and to the testimony do they speak according to that rule?

It’s not a sin to walk away from a church with a false prophet — pastor — at its head. In fact, one is doing the right thing provided one continues to pray often and study Scripture during a search for godly preaching.

Ignore false teachers who say you must stay with their churches or you are condemned. They will try to intimidate members of the congregation who see through them. I once knew someone like that. Fortunately, he retired not long afterward. We now have a vicar who preaches and teaches the Word of God.

Next time: Matthew 7:28-29

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 7:12-14

The Golden Rule

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

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Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

‘So’ in verse 12 follows on from what Jesus said in verse 11, covered in last week’s post:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

It also ties in with His words in the first two verses of Matthew 7, which I also wrote about:

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Matthew Henry explains our Lord’s use of the Law and the Prophets in this context (emphases mine):

It is the summary of that second great commandment, which is one of the two, on which hang all the law and the prophets, Matthew 22:40. We have not this in so many words, either in the law or the prophets, but it is the concurring language of the whole. All that is there said concerning our duty towards our neighbour (and that is no little) may be reduced to this rule. Christ has here adopted it into this law so that both the Old Testament and the New agree in prescribing this to us, to do as we would be done by.

Whilst we often hear Matthew 7:12 quoted, even by secularists, we hear the next two verses much less often. It is easy to forget them in an era when everything goes in today’s churches.

Verses 13 and 14 are particularly crucial and pertinent to those notional Christians who say that everyone will be saved. That is not what Jesus says. He tells us to enter by the narrow gate. The broader way is easier and ‘leads to destruction’ — eternal condemnation.

Also worth noting is His statement that the way leading to life is ‘hard’ and ‘those who find it are few’.

Does that sound like ‘all are saved’?

A similar passage is Luke 13:22-30, which begins as follows. (Similar wording is also in Matthew 7:21-23, part of the three-year Lectionary readings.)

The Narrow Door

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’

There is no excuse to be made for heresy, syncretism, sin, ‘lifestyle choices’ and whatever else today’s churches are wrongly advocating. Powerful, apostate clergy will be among those crying out for the Lord to open the door on Judgement Day and His response will be that He never knew them.

Laypeople would also do well to ensure they do not fall into the same fatal trap, in particular, telling their children that the Lord loves everyone and will save them. It isn’t going to happen.

Henry sums it up this way:

There are but two ways, right and wrong, good and evil the way to heaven, and the way to hell in the one of which we are all of us walking: no middle place hereafter, no middle way now: the distinction of the children of men into saints and sinners, godly and ungodly, will swallow up all to eternity.

Henry and John MacArthur explain more about the narrow gate. In the King James Version the words used are ‘strait’ — small, tight — and ‘narrow’.

Henry states:

First, That the gate is strait. Conversion and regeneration are the gate, by which we enter into this way, in which we begin a life of faith and serious godliness out of a state of sin into a state of grace we must pass, by the new birth, John 3:3,5. This is a strait gate, hard to find, and hard to get through like a passage between two rocks, 1 Samuel 14:4. There must be a new heart, and a new spirit, and old things must pass away. The bent of the soul must be changed, corrupt habits and customs broken off what we have been doing all our days must be undone again. We must swim against the stream much opposition must be struggled with, and broken through, from without, and from within. It is easier to set a man against all the world than against himself, and yet this must be in conversion. It is a strait gate, for we must stoop, or we cannot go in at it we must become as little children high thoughts must be brought down nay, we must strip, must deny ourselves, put off the world, put off the old man we must be willing to forsake all for our interest in Christ. The gate is strait to all, but to some straiter than others as to the rich, to some that have been long prejudiced against religion ...

Secondly, That the way is narrow. We are not in heaven as soon as we have got through the strait gate, nor in Canaan as soon as we have got through the Red Sea no, we must go through a wilderness, must travel a narrow way, hedged in by the divine law, which is exceedingly broad, and that makes the way narrow[;] self must be denied, the body kept under, corruptions mortified, that are as a right eye and a right hand daily temptations must be resisted duties must be done that are against our inclination. We must endure hardness, must wrestle and be in an agony, must watch in all things, and walk with care and circumspection. We must go through much tribulation. It is hodos tethlimmenean afflicted way, a way hedged about with thorns blessed be God, it is not hedged up. The bodies we carry about with us, and the corruptions remaining in us, make the way of our duty difficult but, as the understanding and will grow more and more sound, it will open and enlarge, and grow more and more pleasant.

Thirdly, The gate being so strait and the way so narrow, it is not strange that there are but few that find it, and choose it. Many pass it by, through carelessness they will not be at the pains to find it they are well as they are, and see no need to change their way. Others look upon it, but shun it they like not to be so limited and restrained. Those that are going to heaven are but few, compared to those that are going to hell a remnant, a little flock, like the grape-gleanings of the vintage as the eight that were saved in the ark

John MacArthur likens this small, narrow way to a turnstile, through which only one person can enter at any time. This reinforces the idea that families and groups will not be saved, rather individuals. He says that Jesus was speaking of the Pharisees and the Jewish people of His time:

… many commentators would say that the best expression of this in a contemporary way would be a turnstile.  One of those things which you have to go through all alone; the metal is very close and there’s a little arm there that you push, and you go through.  Now, I know our family, when we go to the zoo, or we go to get on a train somewhere, or go somewhere on an airplane, every once in a while you’ve got to go through something like that, a turnstile. 

And everybody is in a big hurry, and we always realize when we get there that we can’t all go through together, can we, children?  We must go through one at a time.  That’s the way it is with a narrow gate.  You don’t come to the kingdom of Christ in groups.  The Jews believed hey, we’re in the kingdom, we’re all on the road together, we all came through together, based on Abrahamic heritage, based on Jewish ancestry, based on circumcision, we’re all here together.  And I think there are people who think that they’re on the right road to heaven, they got on when they got to church.  They came to church, we’re all in the church and the whole church got on together.  There are no groups coming through the turnstile, folks

You go through all alone.  Salvation is individual.  People have never been saved in pairs.  Oh, when one believes it may influence another to believe, but everyone’s salvation is exclusive and intensely personal.  It admits only one at a time.  And that’s kind of hard, you know.  Because all our life is spent rushing around with the crowd.  All of our life is spent doing whatever everybody else does, being a part of the group, being a part of the gang, being a part of the system around us, being accepted.  And all of a sudden, Christ says, “You’re going to have to come, and you’re going to have to come through this deal all by yourself.”  And to a Pharisee, that meant you’re going to have to say goodbye to those people and that system, and step out alone.

There’s a price to pay, a real price.  It isn’t enough to claim your Abrahamic ancestry, it isn’t enough to go back to your circumcision, it isn’t enough to say, “I was born in a Christian family; I’ve been in the church all my life.”  You don’t come into the Kingdom in groups.  You come in an individual act of faith.  You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone.  Listen to this one: you must enter with great difficulty – with great difficulty … 

He acknowledges that this encourages unbelievers to be hostile to Christianity. It is interesting to note that he preached on Matthew’s Gospel in the 1970s. Even then, there was hostile opposition:

People say, “You know, Christianity doesn’t give room for anybody else.”  That’s exactly right.  We don’t do that because we’re selfish, or because we’re proud, or because we’re egotistical; we do that because that’s what God said

If God said there were 48 ways to salvation, I’d preach all 48 of them.  But there aren’t.  “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be” – what – “saved.”  None other name.  Jesus – Acts 4:12.  “I am the bread of life – I am the way the truth and the life – I am the door – anyone who comes in any other way is a thief and a robber,” John 10.  “There is,” I Timothy 2, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”  Only one, no other name, Christ and Christ alone, it is that narrow, it is that prescribed.  There are no alternatives.  You must enter.  By an act of the will, an act of faith, you have to enter on God’s terms through God’s prescribed gate; and Christ is that gate.  He is that way.  And holy God has the right to determine the basis of salvation, and He has determined that it is Jesus Christ and Him alone, and that’s the way it is

For this reason — and because many cannot give up their attachement to the world — it is hard to accept our Lord’s teachings. MacArthur cited one pertinent example:

A West Indian who had chosen Islam over Christianity said this: “My reason is that Islam is a noble, broad path.  There is room for a man and his sins on it, and the way of Christ is far too narrow.” 

Hmm. It seems to me that man knew very little about Christianity before he converted to Islam. Whilst he was right in saying Christ’s way is very narrow, he misunderstood the concept of abundant divine grace and mercy with regard to our sins. However, Christ, with His love and forgiveness, makes no allowance for sin.

In closing, MacArthur has good observations about the Sermon on the Mount, which many people misinterpret:

Let me suggest to you there are two things you cannot do with the Sermon on the Mount.  One of them is you cannot stand back and admire it.  Jesus is not interested in bouquets for His ethics.  Jesus is not interested in folks who want to just admire the virtues of the ethical statement of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus wants a decision about your destiny.  I believe there is a second thing you can’t do with the Sermon on the Mount, and that is to push it into some prophetic tomorrow.  I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that this is for some far future era. 

I think He is demanding a decision now, in this time …  What Jesus demanded was a choice, an act, an ultimate decision, to be made at that time and that moment, on the basis of what He had just said.  A deliberate choice has to be made.  Christ came to bring a kingdom.  He was a king.  He was the King.  He was the King of kings.  And He came with a kingdom that was unique, and special, and separate, and different from all the kingdoms of the world

The Sermon on the Mount is much more than ethics; it is about following Christ our Lord, the eternal King of Kings.

Next time: Matthew 7:15-20

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 7:7-11

Ask, and It Will Be Given

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

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Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

I wrote about selected ‘forbidden’ passages as follows:

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

Matthew 6:7-15 – Sermon on the Mount, Lord’s Prayer, Jesus, prayer

Matthew 6:22-23 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the eye as lamp of the body

Matthew 7:1-6 – Sermon on the Mount, judging others, speck v log in eye, hypocrisy

Jesus continues His discourse by telling us that, if we ask and seek things from God, He will provide them (verses 7, 8). However, John MacArthur explains that this is not automatic nor applicable to everyone (emphases mine):

asking — you have to be a child of God to receive, and an obedient child of God, and a selfless child of God. And, finally, you have to submit it all to His will. I John 5:14 and 15, “In whatever we ask, we know we receive of Him if we ask according to His will.” That’s not a blank check. It’s just that when the conditions are right — you’re His child, you’re His obedient child, you’re His unselfish child, and you ask according to His will, in order that He may be glorified — He’ll do it.

When we do not receive what we ask for, it is possible — and this often becomes apparent later — that better things lie ahead. We shouldn’t try to force situations.

MacArthur gives us an example of seeking:

Ask is very simple. A child does that. There’s no involvement in it. There’s no participation in it. You just ask. Seek is stronger than an asking. There’s a participation in it. At least you’re moving your eyes. Knock, you’re banging away. There’s a greater participation. So that even though we know everything comes from the Lord, that does not assume that we are not actively, aggressively, perseveringly involved in its fulfillment.

I mean, I don’t just sit at my office and say, “Lord, I want to preach a great sermon Sunday. Please, I ask you, give me a great sermon.” No, what I do is I ask the Lord all week for that, and then I seek that by going through the Word of God and reading and reading. And then I begin banging on the Lord, in a sense, by saying, “Lord, I’m struggling with this thing and I want to understand it,” and this one this morning, which isn’t so hot, anyway, I rewrote three times. And on and on you go, struggling with it. But the point is, I realize that God is the only one who can produce through me, but at the same time, I’ve got to be involved in that.

Matthew Henry has a marvellous exposition of these two verses:

Here is a precept in three words to the same purport, Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7) that is, in one word, “Pray pray often pray with sincerity and seriousness pray, and pray again make conscience of prayer, and be constant in it make a business of prayer, and be earnest in it. Ask, as a beggar asks alms.” Those that would be rich in grace, must betake themselves to the poor trade of begging, and they shall find it a thriving trade. “Ask represent your wants and burthens to God, and refer yourselves to him for support and supply, according to his promise. Ask as a traveller asks the way to pray is to enquire of God, Ezekiel 36:37. Seek, as for a thing of value that we have lost, or as the merchantman that seeks goodly pearls. Seek by prayer, Daniel 9:3. Knock, as he that desires to enter into the house knocks at the door.” We would be admitted to converse with God, would be taken into his love, and favour, and kingdom sin has shut and barred the door against us by prayer, we knock Lord, Lord, open to us. Christ knocks at our door (Revelation 3:20; Song of Solomon 5:2) and allows us to knock at his, which is a favour we do not allow to common beggars. Seeking and knocking imply something more than asking and praying. 1. We must not only ask but seek we must second our prayers with our endeavors we must, in the use of the appointed means, seek for that which we ask for, else we tempt God. When the dresser of the vineyard asked for a year’s respite for the barren fig-tree, he added, I will dig about it, Luke 13:7,8. God gives knowledge and grace to those that search the scriptures, and wait at Wisdom’s gates and power against sin to those that avoid the occasions of it. 2. We must not only ask, but knock we must come to God’s door, must ask importunately not only pray, but plead and wrestle with God we must seek diligently we must continue knocking must persevere in prayer, and in the use of means must endure to the end in the duty.

In verse 9, Jesus makes this more easily understood by discussing the parent-child relationship. Does a parent give his child a tooth-breaking stone instead of bread or a serpent instead of fish (verse 10)? Of course not, unless he or she is perverse or completely unhinged. Instinctively, a parent wants to feed his children. They are his flesh and blood.

Good parents love their children and want the best for them. With that in mind, our Lord then says that God will care even more deeply for our needs and desires (verse 11). He says ‘you then, who are evil’, meaning prone to sin by nature. God, who is perfect in everything, especially love, will provide even more if only we ask, seek and knock.

Henry unpacks this for us:

First, God is more knowing[;] parents are often foolishly fond, but God is wise, infinitely so he knows what we need, what we desire, and what is fit for us. Secondly, God is more kind. If all the compassions of all the tender fathers in the world were crowded into the bowels of one, yet compared with the tender mercies of our God, they would be but as a candle to the sun, or a drop to the ocean. God is more rich, and more ready to give to his children than the fathers of our flesh can be for he is the Father of our spirits, an ever-loving, ever-living Father.

MacArthur takes this a step further:

And the point is this. If evil, unregenerate, sinful fathers give their kids the basics of life, don’t you think God’ll do that? And the idea that I see here is that God is the absolute giving Father, who gives to all what they need, knowing full well they could never give back to Him anything, in kind or measure. And if that’s the way He is, then isn’t that the way we, His children, should be toward others? See?

We will see in the next passage!

Next time: Matthew 7:12-14

 

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 7:1-6

Judging Others

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

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Matthew 7 is the third and final chapter containing the text of the Sermon on the Mount.

It opens with our Lord’s instruction not to judge others, because we, too, can be judged — accused — of various faults (verse 1). The vehemence with which we judge others will be applied to us in this life and the next (verse 2).

Sadly, too many ‘judges’ really do think they are blameless. In reality, they have many faults but are in denial. Some of them appear to be sociopaths or narcissists.

So, then, how are we to judge? Jesus said (John 7:24, another Forbidden Bible Verse):

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

In that instance, He was criticising the Pharisees who made superficial and wrong judgements. In Luke 16:15, yet another Forbidden Bible Verse, we read:

And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Sometimes we do the same when we judge hastily on appearances or speech alone. May we be charitable and discerning with others.

Before we judge with righteousness, we are to examine and rectify our own faults first (verses 3, 4), lest we act in a hypocritical manner (verse 5). Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

I must first reform myself, that I may thereby help to reform my brother, and may qualify myself to reprove him. Note, Those who blame others, ought to be blameless and harmless themselves. Those who are reprovers in the gate, reprovers by office, magistrates and ministers, are concerned to walk circumspectly, and to be very regular in their conversation: an elder must have a good report, 1 Timothy 3:2,7. The snuffers of the sanctuary were to be of pure gold.

In verse 6, Jesus tells us to use discretion when evangelising, informally or formally, lest it makes people hostile to the Gospel, the Church — and us. Henry says:

This may be considered, either, (1.) As a rule to the disciples in preaching the gospel not that they must not preach it to any one who were wicked and profane (Christ himself preached to publicans and sinners), but the reference is to such as they found obstinate after the gospel was preached to them, such as blasphemed it, and persecuted the preachers of it let them not spend much time among such, for it would be lost labour, but let them turn to others, Acts 13:41. So Dr. Whitby. Or, (2.) As a rule to all in giving reproof. Our zeal against sin must be guided by discretion, and we must not go about to give instructions, counsels, and rebukes, much less comforts, to hardened scorners, to whom it will certainly do no good, but who will be exasperated and enraged at us. Throw a pearl to a swine, and he will resent it, as if you threw a stone at him reproofs will be called reproaches, as they were (Luke 11:45; Jeremiah 6:10), therefore give not to dogs and swine (unclean creatures) holy things.

Note that our Lord never preached to Herod Antipas. Paul stopped preaching to the Jews after they blasphemed and ridiculed him in Acts 18. He told them he would focus on preaching to the Gentiles instead.

John MacArthur explains:

This is a tremendous truth, people. We have to learn in our ministry to be discriminating. You don’t say everything to everybody. Paul even said to the Corinthians, “I could not speak unto you certain things because you were carnal. I wouldn’t waste them on your misunderstandings. I wouldn’t waste them on your sinfulness.” Jesus to His disciples could only reveal certain things, and He had to hide other things. And to the world it says, “And He hid them from them and revealed other things unto the babes.” Jesus didn’t say everything to everybody. When Jesus rose from the dead He never one time appeared to an unbeliever. Never once.

In closing, we know the Old Testament’s injunctions against swine. However, MacArthur describes the status of dogs in Jesus’s time:

Dogs in those days were not the little nice smelling, painted nails, rhinestone collars, funny little sweater things that flip flop around the houses today. They were not the little lap dog, pet dog things that we spend a fortune on and all. Dogs in those days, apart from the dogs that worked with the flocks, and, of course, in Job it talks about the dog of the flocks, it would be a trained dog that worked with the sheep, but the dogs in the cities were a mongrel, ugly big bunch of dogs that scavenged around the city and ate the garbage, and they were a horrible, ugly bunch of wild dogs.

The Jews believed them to be filthy. The Old Testament talks about that. Unclean. The Psalms say they threaten, they howl, they snarl, they are a greedy, shameless group. They are called contemptible in I Samuel. Dogs were an ugly kind of a being. They weren’t anything like we have today, except for those that worked with the sheep. They would be pariahs, savage, mongrels. Lived in the garbage heaps. And holy things were not to be thrown to the dogs.

Final word: I’m surprised that these verses are not in the three-year Lectionary. (It is in the two-year one.) A clergyperson could get a number of sermons out of this passage which would be most helpful to many churchgoers.

Next time: Matthew 7:7-11

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 6:22-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and end as follows:

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

Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses lie between the two.

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

Matthew Henry explains (emphases in bold mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says that Jesus gives us three messages about treasure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To conclude on the eye, Henry offers this analysis:

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

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

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

Next time: Matthew 7:1-6

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 6:7-15

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

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

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

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

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

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

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

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

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

——————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

The disciple was referring to John the Baptist.

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

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

Matthew Henry recalls that the Old Testament recounts pagan prayers:

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

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

John MacArthur cites the pagans of the ancient world:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, let us not forget ‘Amen':

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur says:

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

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

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

Interesting!

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

Next time: Matthew 6:22-23

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 5:31-32

Divorce

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

——————————————————————

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

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

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

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

Lust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laws Concerning Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry explains:

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

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

MacArthur sums it up this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judah Profaned the Covenant

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

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

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

Hosea’s Wife and Children

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re seeing and living this out today.

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

Next time: Matthew 6:7-15

 

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