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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 14:34-36

Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret

34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

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Last week’s reading is at the beginning of Matthew 14 and relates the death of John the Baptist, news of which reached Jesus.

Matthew tells us that, afterwards, He went by boat to ‘a desolate place’ to be alone (Matthew 14:13).

The crowds followed Him via land routes (Matthew 14:14). He healed the sick among them and, when the day came to an end, He performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000, which was likely more, as that number only designated men. There were also women and children there, so, as John MacArthur says, there could have been as many as 25,000 people in all (Matthew 14:15-21).

Jesus still wanted to pray alone, so He sent the disciples on ahead in their boat to go to the other side of the sea to Gennesaret. A terrible storm broke out whilst the disciples were in the boat. They were too far out to get back to shore. They were frightened. In the middle of the night, Jesus approached them, walking on water. Seeing this figure, the disciples were truly terrified. Jesus said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid’ (Matthew 14:22-27).

This is what happened next (Matthew 14:28-33):

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,[d] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

This brings us to today’s verses which concern his second ministry in Gennesaret. Matthew Henry tells us:

It was in this country and neighbourhood that the woman with the bloody issue was cured by touching the hem of his garment, and was commended for her faith (Matthew 9:20-22) and thence, probably, they took occasion to ask this.

John MacArthur says:

we do know that in past ministry there, He had healed multitudes and multitudes and multitudes, so there were a lot less than there originally were.

The parallel reading for this is Mark 6:53-56, which I discussed in 2012. That post has a much more detailed version of the feeding of the 5,000 and the ensuing storm which was a precursor of the hardships the apostles would endure in their future preaching and healing.

The story of His first ministry there involves healing the woman with the 12-year blood flow and Jairus’s daughter. There are three accounts: Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-34 and Luke 8:40-48.

Now on to today’s reading. Jesus and His disciples landed at Gennesaret (verse 34). My post about Mark’s version of events explains that this place, which was a small region rather than a village or town, was:

not far from Capernaum and Bethsaida, the original port of call (Mark 6:45). (This Bethsaida is different from the Pool of Bethesda or Pool of Bethsaida in John 5. The port of Bethsaida is along the Sea of Galilee. The name means ‘fish house’, so fishing was probably the primary local ‘industry’ there.)

John’s account tells us that people followed them there. More came from Capernaum. So, again, our Saviour and the Twelve were surrounded by crowds (verse 54). This time, however, the newcomers sought healing (verse 55). MacArthur says that Gennesaret is a scenic spot which is much identified with the Sea of Galilee, sometimes referred to as the Lake of Gennesaret.

Matthew Henry wrote that Gennesaret translates as:

the valley of branches.

Furthermore, it was next to the land of the Gadarenes, or:

the Gergesenes, their neighbours, who were borderers upon the same lake. Those besought Christ to depart from them, they had no occasion for him these besought him to help them, they had need of him.

You can read more about the story of the Gadarene swine in Matthew 8:28-34. For parallel accounts, but with one man instead of two, read Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-33 and Luke 8:34-39.

In Gennesaret, it was not long before the men of the region recognised Jesus from His first visit (verse 35). They quickly went around to bring the sick to Him.

Note that when the men brought the ailing to Jesus, they followed the example of the woman with the blood flow and implored Him to allow the sick to touch the hem of His garment in order to be healed (verse 36).

All who touched it were made well.

MacArthur says that they did not wish to impose on Him (emphases mine):

They may have remembered the woman in chapter 9, who grabbed His robe and was healed. All they felt they needed to do was to touch Him, and I think there is a sense of beautiful propriety here, a sensitivity here; they are saying, “We need so desperately what you have to give, but we don’t want to be an extra burden for you. You don’t have to get around to all of us; we’ll just touch You, and that way we’ll be as little a problem to You as we can be.” So there is a sense of propriety and sensitivity in their approach, and a great, great measure of faith.

Remember that Jesus’s creative miracles resulted in immediate and complete restoration to health as a sign that God is merciful in His love:

There are no progressive healings, or claims that, “Jesus healed me, and I’ve been getting better ever since.” They were made totally well in the instant that they touched Him. Here, again, we are wont to remark that the compassion of God is demonstrated; He is the compassionate healer. It is so that God may be revealed as a compassionate God, a God of loving kindness and tenderness toward people.

Did the people believe that Jesus was the Son of God afterward? MacArthur thinks that is unlikely:

It strikes me that this again is a classic example of the fact that people inevitably came to Jesus to get what they wanted. Then, having gotten what they wanted, they left. That is the pathos of this whole thing. It always seems to be so with Jesus. Once people have received what they wanted, they’re gone.

We respond with, ‘Aww, that’s awful.’ Yet, are we any better?

Even today in our contemporary kind of Christianity, Jesus is seen as a genie who responds to our wishes, and having received our wishes, we abandon any meaningful relationship. It’s as if Jesus is offered as one who is a panacea and little else. We, today, are as guilty of ingratitude toward God and Jesus Christ, which, by the way, may be the ugliest of all sins, as these were in that day. So in spite of their ingratitude and self-centeredness, and in spite of the fact that their commitment to Him was one of great faith and great need and not one of great adoration, He healed them. That is the compassion of God.

This modern taking God for granted is known as moralistic therapeutic deism. The link has a simple explanation of the comfy Christianity many of us ascribe to.

If we have fallen in that trap, Matthew Henry gives us advice on how to enter in to a truly profound relationship with our Lord which will sustain us in this life. Alternatively, we can carry on and risk falling away from the faith:

The healing virtue that is in Christ, is put forth for the benefit of those that by a true and lively faith touch him. Christ is in heaven, but his word is nigh us, and he himself in that word. When we mix faith with the word, apply it to ourselves, depend upon it, and submit to its influences and commands, then we touch the hem of Christ’s garment. It is but thus touching, and we are made whole. On such easy terms are spiritual cures offered by him, that he may truly be said to heal freely so that if our souls die of their wounds, it is not owing to our Physician, it is not for want of skill or will in him but it is purely owing to ourselves. He could have healed us, he would have healed us, but we would not be healed so that our blood will lie upon our own heads.

That’s a sobering thought.

In closing, John MacArthur introduced Matthew 15, which we will begin next week, as follows:

He rejected the shallow, sham kind of interest. It was superficial, political, self-centered, self-indulgent; they wanted food, they wanted healing, they wanted freedom from Rome and the Herodians, but they didn’t want their hearts changed, or Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, so He rejected the shallowness of their interest. From here on out, things begin to descend; He loses popularity, hostility begins to rise, we are one year away from His crucifixion, and the majority of that year is spent in seclusion with the Twelve. He is readying and equipping them for the tremendous ministry they’re going to have when He leaves …

From here on out, He’s going to spend more and more time with the Twelve as the hostility, anger, bitterness, and rejection arises. Again, as we look at our text, we see an instant change that helps us note this as a turning point. The crowd has given to Jesus the pinnacle of popularity, and it is the very next day that He is confronted, here in this text, with the scribes and Pharisees who pour their venom on Him, and reveal the fact that what they really want to do is publicly discredit Him and get rid of Him. So the turning point comes immediately, and we are faced with the hostility of these religious leaders of Israel.

Next time: Matthew 15:1-9

Bible GenevaThe 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 14:1-12

The Death of John the Baptist

14 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife,[a] because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

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It is appalling that neither version, Matthew’s nor Mark’s, of the death of John the Baptist — the last prophet — whom Jesus compared to Elijah and the greatest person who ever lived, is in the three-year Lectionary. Why? Churchgoers need to hear about profoundly serious sin brought about by the preference for one’s own pleasure. And Herod’s is a classic morality as well as biblical story, affirmed by the historian Josephus and the early Doctor of the Church Jerome.

The Bible tells us that we can choose to enslave ourselves to God or to sin. This story should be at the forefront of our minds as a real-life illustration — and warning — of what happens when people decide to give themselves over to the devil.

Matthew gives us the end of the story then goes back and explains what happened.

Mark has a longer history of John the Baptist and Herod. I wrote about his account in 2012 and provided a lot of historical information from John MacArthur as to why John the Baptist warned Herod about his lust and unlawful marriage with Herodias. You can read more here and here. I also wrote about the various Herods yesterday; you might find the post useful.

Now on to Matthew’s account. The first two verses tell us that Herod is convinced Jesus is a resurrected John the Baptist. He knew John was imbued with holiness, hence Herod believed he was now risen and working heavenly miracles. Herod did not know much of Jesus at this time.

We then read (verses 3, 4) why Herod imprisoned John the Baptist, who might have been held in close proximity to Herod’s home. Matthew Henry gives us a succinct explanation (emphases mine):

The particular sin he reproved him for was, marrying his brother Philip’s wife, not his widow (that had not been so criminal), but his wife. Philip was now living, and Herod inveigled his wife from him, and kept her for his own. Here was a complication of wickedness, adultery, incest, besides the wrong done to Philip, who had had a child by this woman and it was an aggravation of the wrong, that he was his brother, his half-brother, by the father, but not by the mother. See Psalm 50:20. For this sin John reproved him not by tacit and oblique allusions, but in plain terms, It is not lawful for thee to have her. He charges it upon him as a sin not, It is not honourable, or, It is not safe, but, It is not lawful the sinfulness of sin, as it is the transgression of the law, is the worst thing in it.

John the Baptist had so aggravated Herod’s conscience that he wanted to put him to death. The only thing that stopped him from doing so was the fury of the people who deeply loved and respected John the Baptist.

When Herod’s birthday celebrations took place (verses 6, 7), they were decadent. By the time Salome — unnamed in the New Testament — came in to dance, the assembled guests had enjoyed sumptuous feeding and watering. In keeping with Roman traditions, the event required a memorable party piece involving death.

John MacArthur gives us two examples:

Herodias had an ancestor by the name of Alexander Junius, and historians tell us that one time, Alexander Junius was holding a big feast, and brought in 800 rebels to make a display. He crucified all 800 of them in front of all the revelers at the feast, and then, while they were hanging on the crosses, still alive, he murdered their wives and children in front of them. It was a debauched world …

When the head of Cicero was brought to Fulvia, the wife of Antony, she spat on it, pulled its tongue out, and drove her hair pin through it. Jerome says that is what Herodias did with the head of John; we can’t verify that, but we know that Herod’s family seemed to want to mimic all of the worst atrocities of the Roman nobility. It must have been a point of derision and mocking – that dear, godly, faithful man, his head severed from his body. That is the extent of rejection that comes under the pressure of the fear of man. He was afraid to lose his throne, afraid of John, afraid of his wife, afraid of the people around him. Under the intimidation of that, he damned his soul to Hell forever.

Hell. Matthew had just mentioned Jesus’s description of it in Chapter 13, in a verse also excluded from the three-year Lectionary:

50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Anyone who doubts the existence of hell or eternal punishment is allowed to debate the issue here, however, please do give a reason why, other than, for example — speaking generally — that ‘God in His mercy will save everyone’ or ‘I never believed it’. Examples of reasons would include an underlying difficulty with authority, doubting the creeds, relying on favourite authors or revisionist professors rather than Scripture, etc.

As we saw last week, Scripture — and Jesus, in particular — warned us many times about transgressing the Father. And we transgress the Father when we transgress His Son Jesus.

Jesus’s death on the cross is satisfactory for the sins of the world but is efficacious only for those who believe in Him:

It is Satan’s studied purpose to keep souls from believing in Christ as their only hope; for the blood of Christ that cleanseth from all sin is efficacious in behalf of those only who believe in its merit.

If we were all saved, why would Jesus — and, later, the Apostles — have continually warned us in the New Testament to turn away from sin? Surely, if we were all going to heaven, it would not matter. We could do whatever we pleased, as Herod and his family did, and still be saved.

In fact, why would we need any laws at all if we were all going to share a glorious afterlife? We could all be murderous, thieving anarchists engaging in fornication and adultery.

To those who support Universalism, I recommend a solid study of the New Testament, because:

When the Godhead is denied, there is no salvation.  When the dual nature of Christ is denied, there is no salvation.  When salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is denied, there is no salvation.  When the Word of Truth is denied, there is no salvation.  When Jesus’ second coming bodily to rule and judge the earth is denied, there is no salvation.

We are not saved on the basis of simply saying we believe Jesus existed, was a great guy, was a prophet, was a wonderful teacher … but on the basis of our continued belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He will ultimately save us and give us eternal life.

I suspect that those who deny hell are worried not about themselves as much as a close family member or a cherished friend, past or present.

Pray that living unbelievers are given the divine grace necessary to enable an everlasting faith. Scripture tells us that we can know God only via a firm belief in His Son Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Returning to today’s reading, Herodias had a word with Salome, who then asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter (verse 8). Henry surmises that Herodias might have worried Herod could find a younger or more beautiful partner:

Perhaps Herodias feared lest Herod should grow weary of her (as lust useth to nauseate and be cloyed), and then would make John Baptist’s reproof a pretence to dismiss her to prevent which she contrives to harden Herod in it by engaging him in the murder of John.

Herod immediately regretted his rash and extravagant promise to Herodias’s daughter (verse 9). Henry explains the dangers of making oaths and throwing wild parties:

Promissory oaths are ensnaring things, and, when made rashly, are the products of inward corruption, and the occasion of many temptations.

Note, Times of carnal mirth and jollity are convenient times for carrying on bad designs against God’s people. When the king was made sick with bottles of wine, he stretched out his hand with scorners (Hosea 7:5), for it is part of the sport of a fool to do mischief, Proverbs 10:23. The Philistines, when their heart was merry, called for Samson to abuse him. The Parisian massacre was at a wedding. This young lady’s dancing pleased Herod. We are not told who danced with her, but none pleased Herod like her dancing. Note, A vain and graceless heart is apt to be greatly in love with the lusts of the flesh and of the eye, and when it is so, it is entering into further temptation for by that Satan gets and keeps possession. See Proverbs 23:31-33. Herod was now in a mirthful mood, and nothing was more agreeable to him than that which fed his vanity.

Herod did as his step-daughter asked and, as proof, the prophet’s head was duly brought in (verses 10, 11). Salome presented John the Baptist’s head to her mother.

Afterwards, John the Baptist’s friends buried his body, then relayed the tragic news to Jesus (verse 12).

MacArthur makes this observation:

It may speak something of the thoughtfulness of Herod in his sobriety as he would permit that.

Then, Jesus went away to be alone (Matthew 14:13). John the Baptist was His cousin. They were conceived around the same time.

The Gospels tell us that Herod wanted to meet Jesus. However, He never did. MacArthur tells us:

Once, He sent a message to him. In Luke 13:32-33, He sent a message to Herod and said, “You fox. You want to see Me? You will not be able to kill Me like you did John the Baptist until My work is done.” He called him a fox, and He never saw him, and moved, with quiet dignity, beyond the grasp of Herod. He left Herod to his guilt, his unresolved fear, his vile, wretched sin, and to the woman who was his doom, until one fateful day.

The only time Jesus saw Herod was at His trial, prior to the Crucifixion:

Look at Luke 23:6. This is the only time He ever went into the presence of Herod. This is the trial of Jesus. “When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.” Pilate didn’t know what to do with Jesus, who was on trial, or mock trial. So he knows that He is from Galilee, and he says that He belongs in Herod’s jurisdiction, so he ships Jesus to Herod. Verse 8. “Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.” Here was this strange fascination again, and now, finally, the two meet.

“Then he questioned Him with many words,” and we don’t know what he asked, but what an opportunity! The Lord can give him all the answers right now. Herod desires, longs to see Jesus, and has for a long time. The Lord could do some miracles, give him all the answers he wants, and it says, “But He answered him nothing.” Jesus never said one word. “And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.”

The used to hate each other, but here, they became friends. You know how? Common mockery of the Son of God; they are two very tragic men. Listen, Herod rejected Christ, and Christ rejected Herod. It was hard, stony ground; for fear of a woman, for fear of a reputation, for fear of his peers, and for fear of his throne, he damned his soul forever. John the Baptist lost his head but lives forever in the presence of God.

In conclusion:

Christ wants to reveal Himself to you, but if you are proudly holding onto your reputation, for fear of what others may think, for fear of the attitude and actions of those who may reject you, for fear of the loss of face or reputation, for intimidation by evil people, you have forfeited Christ and damn your soul. The day will come when you ask the questions and get no answers.

Next time: Matthew 14:34-36

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 (here and here).

Matthew 13:50-53

50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

New and Old Treasures

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there,

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Verse 50 concludes Jesus’s Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-49):

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous

That parable is read in the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time when Year A readings are used in the three-year Lectionary.

It is a pity that the compilers — Catholic and Protestant theologians — decided to omit verse 50.

Since the 19th century, the Christian idea of hell has been watered down to such a degree that many people joke, ‘So what? At least I can get a gin and tonic down there’.

However, as John MacArthur says, hell is no laughing matter (emphases mine):

Verse 50, “And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Now that is a fearful verse.  And I confess to you that it affects me just as it affects anybody.  It is a horrifying, fearful verse

And if there’s any doctrine in the Bible that you wish were not there it is the doctrine of hell, but that does not eliminate it.  It is there.  And this is the heart of the matter.  Cast into the furnace of fire.  Those are terrifying words from our Lord.  And yet He spoke more of hell than anybody else. 

And I think there’s a reason.  Do you know what I think?  I think that if Jesus hadn’t taught us about hell, we wouldn’t believe whoever did.  It had to be Him.  It is so inconceivable, it so causes us to be revulsed.  We cannot conceive of eternal damnation.  And it had to be our Lord who said this or we never would have been able to accept it.  It was His own special emphasis.  And He was a preacher of hell.  More than anything else, He threatened men with hell.  And if you don’t think He did then you haven’t been carefully noting His ministry.

MacArthur went on to detail the previous references in Matthew’s Gospel. MacArthur was using the KJV at this time in his ministry.

Matthew 5:22:

Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Matthew 5:29-30:

If your right eye offend you, pluck it out and cast it from you for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not your whole body should be cast into hell. If your right hand offend you, cut it off, throw it away, for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish and not that your whole body should be cast into hell.

Matthew 8:12:

The sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Other verses which cite our Lord directly concern condemnation or damnation. And, as Bible readers know, it is not only in Matthew, including chapters 23 through 25, that we find such warnings but also:

Mark chapter 9, Luke chapter 6, Luke chapter 12, Luke chapter 16.  It just goes on and on.

If our Lord warned us so many times, why would we not believe Him?

Because theologians, even in the 16th century but more nowadays, have told us that this hell is a psychological one that causes us to long for God. I can understand why atheists respond with ‘So what? I don’t believe anyway.’

I’m going to go into MacArthur’s definition of hell — from the same sermon — in tomorrow’s post, but suffice it to say that it includes ‘impenetrable darkness’, ‘unrelieved fire’, physical pain and torment of the soul relative to the degree of sin committed in this life.

He says:

When a person dies, their soul goes out of the presence of God, into the torment of hell.  It may not be the full final lake of fire that comes after the judgment in the great white throne, for that needs a transcendent body to endure it

But it is a torment just as well as illustrated by the rich man who in hell was tormented.  When a person dies now, their soul descends into that torment.  In the future, there will be a resurrection of the bodies of the damned.  They will be given a transcendent body that will then go into a lake of fire.  It will be a body not like the body we have now.  It will be a very different one.  They will be resurrected just like we will, as Christians

We will be resurrected because this body could never live eternally in heaven, right?  We have to have a transcendent body, a glorified body, a different body, and so do the damned.  And they will be raised, John 5, they will be raised in new bodies for the single purpose of being punished forever in those bodies

That’s what the Bible says, tormented forever.  They have to have a body to fit that eternal torment.  And that’s why Jesus in Matthew 10:28 said, “Fear not them that can destroy the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  You see, hell is soul and body …

With the present body, man couldn’t endure hell … the body that we have now would be consumed in a moment.  So as God fits the redeemed with new bodies for heaven, He fits the damned with new bodies for hell … 

Since childhood, I have always been struck by the words ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’, which seem to imply more than torment of the soul.

Above, MacArthur referred to our Lord’s story of Dives (‘rich man’) and Lazarus, which is a reading in the three-year Lectionary (Luke 16:19-31). Dives did nothing to help poor, sickly Lazarus who ate the scraps from his table. When Lazarus died, he went to heaven. When Dives died, he went to hell. There Dives suffered from everlasting thirst:

24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 

Abraham refused. The rich man then asked him to send someone who had died to his brothers, so they might be warned of the torment to come. Abraham replied that the rich man’s brothers had Moses and the prophets to warn them. Ultimately:

31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

And so it remains to this day. Our Lord has millions who mock Him daily around the world.

Jesus had finished relating the disciples not only the Parable of the Net, but also the Parables of the Sower, the Weeds, the Mustard Seed and the Leaven, the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value.

He asked His disciples if they understood them (verse 51). They replied, ‘Yes’. Matthew Henry says that Jesus asked because:

he was ready to explain what they did not understand. Note, It is the will of Christ, that all those who read and hear the word should understand it for otherwise how should they get good by it? It is therefore good for us, when we have read or heard the word, to examine ourselves, or to be examined, whether we have understood it or not. It is no disparagement to the disciples of Christ to be catechised. Christ invites us to seek to him for instruction, and ministers should proffer their service to those who have any good question to ask concerning what they have heard.

We can be sure that the disciples did understand the parables because when they did not, as with those of the Sower and also the Weeds, they asked for an explanation.

Jesus then paid them a compliment (verse 52) by comparing them to scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven and masters of a house. Henry explains:

They were now learning that they might teach, and the teachers among the Jews were the scribes. Ezra, who prepared his heart to teach in Israel, is called a ready scribe, Ezra 7:6,10. Now a skilful, faithful minister of the gospel is a scribe too but for distinction, he is called a scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, well versed in the things of the gospel, and well able to teach those things

He compares them to a good householder, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old fruits of last year’s growth and this year’s gathering, abundance and variety, for the entertainment of his friends, Song of Song of Solomon 7:13. See here, [1.] What should be a minister’s furniture, a treasure of things new and old. Those who have so many and various occasions, have need to stock themselves well in their gathering days with truths new and old, out of the Old Testament and out of the new with ancient and modern improvements, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished, 2 Timothy 3:16,17. Old experiences, and new observations, all have their use and we must not content ourselves with old discoveries, but must be adding new. Live and learn.

Verse 53 refers to our Lord’s departure from Capernaum to his hometown of Nazareth. Luke 4:16-30 tells us what happened there, and I wrote about it, albeit briefly as it is in the Lectionary, in 2013.

In short, the people of Nazareth thought Jesus was an upstart, got angry with Him and tried to throw Him off a cliff:

30 But passing through their midst, he went away.

Given that, it seems strange that Mary and His step-brothers wanted to bring Him back to Nazareth.

MacArthur tells us that Jesus was leaving Capernaum for good, as the residents did not accept Him, even though He had been teaching and healing the people there for a year.

Remember His dire warning to them in Matthew 11:20-24, which some of you might remember from my entry of October 2015.

MacArthur explains:

back in Matthew 11:23, Jesus said, “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”

In other words, Jesus had pronounced a curse on Capernaum, and when it says that very simple little statement at the end of verse 53, “He departed from there,” Capernaum’s history ended and God’s damning judgment began. It was the beginning of the end. He never went back, except in passing, and never reestablished a base there. Capernaum had its opportunity. He had come into that city, demonstrated power that could only be interpreted as from God, and now it was over. It marked a crisis in the town’s history from which it never recovered. If you go today to Capernaum, no one lives there; it is utter ruin. It is one of the most beautiful places on the earth, but no one is there. It has felt the hot breath of the curse of Jesus Christ for its unbelief.

At this point, He made a second visit to Nazareth. This took place one year after the synagogue congregation tried to kill Him:

He went right back into the teeth of the storm, right back into the synagogue, and taught them.

Matthew 13:57-58 relates that this return visit went no better than the first:

57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

It is amazing that between these two towns the most perfect teaching and healing the residents could ever experience escaped them. Who could have done that except the Messiah?

MacArthur explains:

Nazareth’s problem was that they loved their sin, and didn’t want Christ at all. That is why, when they came to Jesus, they said, “We want a sign,” and He said, “I will give no sign to this evil, adulterous generation. Your problem isn’t that you need proof, but that you love sin.” That is the issue. Unbelief blurs the obvious.

And so it remains and will remain until the end of time as we understand it.

In closing, two brief observations.

First, it is appalling to think how little our clergy explain the unbelief and rejection in both Nazareth and Capernaum. Until I started carefully reading the Bible, using Matthew Henry and John MacArthur as guides, I had no idea. If you have known this since childhood, say a prayer of thanks for the blessing of faithful teachers at home and in church.

Secondly, the compilers of the three-year Lectionary have done us all a disservice. The omission of one of Jesus’s dire warnings about hell (Matthew 13:50) is deplorable. We need to know this. We should not have to go digging around at home to find the missing verse. I say that because Catholics have their Missalettes which have the readings in the booklet. They generally do not have Bibles in their pews. A number of them have probably never read verse 50 — and many others which are omitted: Forbidden, yet Essential, Bible Verses. Don’t our clergy want us to know the truth?

Next time: Matthew 14:1-12

 

Bible GenevaThe 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 13:10-17

The Purpose of the Parables

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

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Matthew 13 opens with the Parable of the Sower.

Afterwards, the disciples asked our Lord why He chose to speak in parables (verse 10). He replied that the parables are for them because they have the capability of understanding holy mysteries. The people do not (verse 11).

In fact, Jesus speaks of a judgement on the people in this regard. They are present. They see Him. They witness His miracles. They hear his teaching. Yet, their unbelief prevents them from understanding. He speaks of the gift of comprehension via divine grace in verse 12: to those who have it, God will bestow even more, however, to those who do not have it, even what faculties one has to understand will be taken away. Therefore, the people can hear and see but not comprehend (verse 13).

John MacArthur explains that:

willful rejection becomes judicial rejection.  Man says no, so God says no as well.  God confirms men in their own stubbornness; God binds them by their own chain.  And for them the parables become interesting stories and they really don’t know what the point is.  Just riddles …

And the fact that we who love Jesus Christ understand the Bible is not a statement about our intellect; it is a statement about God’s gracious illumination of our hearts and minds.  This is judgment.  Look at it this way.  When Jesus first came, His words were very clear.  He said He was the King.  He proved He was the King.  He preached the Kingdom message.  He said, “Here’s how it is in My kingdom.”  He said, “Repent, the kingdom is at hand.”  He gave them all they needed to know about the kingdom.  They didn’t hear.  They refused Him. 

Some will say that is harsh. However, MacArthur goes on to say that Jesus made everything crystal clear up to that point so that people would recognise Him as the Messiah:

So, when they wouldn’t listen to the clear words that He spoke.  And you remember back in Matthew 5 to 7, He would say, “The kingdom of heaven is like – ” and then He would use that analogy, salt or light or birds or lilies of the field and He would always explain its meaning?  Therefore He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom and all these things will be added.  It was always very clear what He meant.  And then when they hardened their hearts and blasphemed Him and said He was from Satan, then He talked to them in riddles that He did not explain.

Our Lord extends the meaning of Isaiah 6:9-10 from the prophet’s day to His own (verses 14, 15).

MacArthur gives us Isaiah’s context:

Isaiah wrote that at a time of profound judgment on Israel.  He had just pronounced a series of curses on them.  He cursed them for all of their drunkenness, debauchery, their immorality, He cursed them for their bribery, He cursed them for their oppression of the poor.  He cursed them for their hypocritical religion.  And then, of course, at the height of all of that cursings, the King Uzziah died, and the country plunged into the darkest days in a long time. 

They were on the edge of imminent conquering, and the Babylonian captivity came as that judgment.  And Isaiah says to them, “Now God’s going to judge you; you wouldn’t hear and you wouldn’t see and now you can’t hear and you can’t see.  You wouldn’t be converted and you wouldn’t be healed, and now you can’t be healed or converted.” 

And it wasn’t long after that, Jeremiah echoed the message of Isaiah, and the great hordes came and swept away the people into Babylonian captivity.  That was the first fulfillment of Isaiah’s words.  And Jesus says, “Here’s the second.”  So parables…listen carefully…are a judgment on unbelief.  The fact that the natural man understandeth not the things of God is not only a statement about his ignorance.  It is a statement about God’s judgment on that individual. 

Matthew Henry warns us about God’s judgement of the greatest of sins (emphases mine):

A description of that judicial blindness, which is the just punishment of this. “By hearing, ye shall hear, and shall not understand what means of grace you have, shall be to no purpose to you though, in mercy to others, they are continued, yet in judgment to you, the blessing upon them is denied.” The saddest condition a man can be in on this side hell, is to sit under the most lively ordinances with a dead, stupid, untouched heart. To hear God’s word, and see his providences, and yet not to understand and perceive his will, either in the one or in the other, is the greatest sin and the greatest judgment that can be. Observe, It is God’s work to give an understanding heart, and he often, in a way of righteous judgment, denies it to those to whom he has given the hearing ear, and the seeing eye, in vain. Thus does God choose sinners’ delusions (Isaiah 66:4), and bind them over to the greatest ruin, by giving them up to their own hearts’ lusts (Psalm 81:11,12) let them alone (Hosea 4:17) my Spirit shall not always strive, Genesis 6:3.

Henry explains how divine grace operates in conversion:

Note, 1. That seeing, hearing, and understanding, are necessary to conversion[,] for God, in working grace, deals with men as men, as rational agents he draws with the cords of a man, changes the heart by opening the eyes, and turns from the power of Satan unto God, by turning first from darkness to light, (Acts 26:18). 2. All those who are truly converted to God, shall certainly be healed by him. “If they be converted I shall heal them, I shall save them:” so that if sinners perish, it is not to be imputed to God, but to themselves they foolishly expected to be healed, without being converted. 3. It is just with God to deny his grace to those who have long and often refused the proposals of it, and resisted the power of it. Pharaoh, for a good while, hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15,32), and afterwards God hardened it, Matthew 9:12,10:20. Let us therefore fear, lest by sinning against the divine grace, we sin it away.

When we consider how many of God’s people had the commonly-shared hope that He would provide them with the Messiah, the Redeemer. Not all understood this the same way — the prophets communicated it best — but the universal anticipation among these people, beginning with Abraham, was of divine redemption and union with God.

How they would have loved being in Galilee or Jerusalem during Jesus’s ministry.

This is why MacArthur tells us to cherish the divine gifts we have to understand the divine Truth:

Today we have the Word.  You say, “Jesus isn’t here to explain.”  No, but He said, “When I go away I’ll send another explainer, the Holy Spirit.  And He’ll lead you into all truth.” 

Do you realize what a privilege we have?  Do you realize that we not only have this book, but we have its author living in us to explain it to us?  To interpret it to us?  To apply it to us?  How they of old hungered for that. 

Also:

The other side of that is this second truth.  Rejection of Jesus Christ means the decreasing darkness of unbelief.  You don’t stay in the same spot.  It gets deeper and deeper and deeper

But it need not be so, for God calls you to Christ even this hour while you can still hear, and promises that if you receive the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, there shall be an ever increasing light, an ever increasing illumination of spiritual truth until, finally, someday you shall know as you are known in the eternal presence of the living Lord

In closing, John’s Gospel cites the same verses from Isaiah. I wrote about John 12:39-41 in 2011. That exposition also has more explanations to understand and consider, particularly since Jesus prefaced His citation of Isaiah with this warning (John 12:35-36):

35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

The people of His time ignored and mocked Him.

May we never find ourselves in the same scenario.

Next time: Matthew 13:50-53

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 12:46-50

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.[a] 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

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Parallel passages for this episode in our Lord’s ministry can be found in Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21.

The verses in Mark 3 have been included in the three-year Lectionary.

I wrote about Luke’s verses in 2013, and you can find an extensive explanation of the situation at the link above.

Mark 3 tells us that Mary and her other sons were worried about Jesus’s health as He was surrounded by so many people every day (Mark 3:20-21). Emphases mine below:

20Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

They intended to take Him back to Nazareth.

Yet, Luke 4:16-30 tells what happened earlier when Jesus preached in His hometown synagogue. The townspeople were resentful that Joseph the carpenter’s son claimed that He is the fulfilment of Scripture. You can read more at the beginning of this post.

His fellow Nazarenes were so angry that they tried to do away with Him:

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

That is how Jesus came to be based in Capernaum:

31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.

Matthew’s context concerns the verbal attacks by the Jewish hierarchy, about which I wrote in 2015:

Matthew 12:1-8 – Jesus, Pharisees, working on the Sabbath, grain;

Matthew 12:9-14 – Jesus, miracles, healing miracles, withered hand;

Matthew 12:15-21 – Jesus, Isaiah, prophecy of the Messiah, Gentiles;

Matthew 12:22-32 – Jesus, Pharisees, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit unforgivable;

Matthew 12:33-37 – Jesus, Pharisees, a tree is known by its fruit;

Matthew 12:38-42 – Jesus, Pharisees, scribes, sign, sign of Jonah;

Matthew 12:43-45 – Jesus, parable, unclean spirit, demons, Pharisees.

When this takes place, Jesus is in a house, by the way. We find this out in Matthew 13:1:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has a number of excellent observations about Mary’s and her sons’ request to speak to Jesus.

First, why were they not indoors listening to Jesus’s teaching?

they should have been standing within, desiring to hear him. They had the advantage of his daily converse in private, and therefore were less mindful to attend upon his public preaching. Note, Frequently those who are nearest to the means of knowledge and grace, are most negligent. Familiarity and easiness of access breed some degree of contempt. We are apt to neglect that this day, which we think we may have any day, for getting that it is only the present time we can be sure of tomorrow is none of ours. There is too much truth in that common proverb, “The nearer the church, the further from God ” it is pity it should be so.

Secondly, why were they interrupting Him when He was teaching and preaching?

They not only would not hear him themselves, but they interrupted others that heard him gladly The mother of our Lord desired to speak with him[;] it seemed she had not then learned to command her Son, as the iniquity and idolatry of the church of Rome has since pretended to teach her: nor was she so free from fault and folly as they would make her.

Thirdly, wouldn’t Mary have been reminded of Jesus’s teaching in the temple as a boy?

if she had remembered it now, she would not have given him this interruption when he was about his Father’s business. Note, There is many a good truth that we thought was well laid up when we heard it, which yet is out of the way when we have occasion to use it.

This episode shows Mary in her humanity: loving but flawed. Each of the three Gospel passages recounts the story in nearly identical wording.

John MacArthur tells us that, even though a man was telling Jesus His mum wanted Him, Jesus knew how to respond:

He is trying to say, at this point, that earthly, physical relationships are not an issue with Him. “Who is my mother? Who are My brothers?” In other words, “Who is really related to Me? Who is really in My family? Who really has any intimacy with Me? Who can really put demands on Me regarding responsibility and fellowship?” In verse 49, He answers His own question. “And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers!'” He’s saying, “Do you want to know who is related to Me? Here they are. They are related to Me; they are My spiritual family.” That’s the only real family that matters.

He loved Mary and His brothers but He was, as in the temple in his youth, about His Father’s work.

As such, He considered His disciples to be His family, too (verse 49).

The answer He gave (verse 50) about those obeying God being His family members extended to His immediate family as well:

Mary had to be redeemed just like everyone else; that’s why then the angel gave her the message, she thanked God her Savior. Remember that statement? Sure, she had to be redeemed, and so did His brothers. I think there may have been, latent in that, an invitation to them. Certainly, they would have been encompassed in the wide invitation to all who were there. He was saying, “Relationship, to Me, is a spiritual issue. These who believe in Me are related to Me.”

For us, a reflection for the week ahead would be to consider Jesus’s love for us in this regard. Henry puts it this way:

All obedient believers are near akin to Jesus Christ. They wear his name, bear his image, have his nature, are of his family. He loves them, converses freely with them as his relations. He bids them welcome to his table, takes care of them, provides for them, sees that they want nothing that is fit for them: when he died he left them rich legacies, now he is in heaven he keeps up a correspondence with them, and will have them all with him at last

MacArthur says:

It is the will of the Father that you hear the Son. It is the will of the Father that you believe in the Son. It is the will of the Father that you be saved, and it is not the will of the Father that you perish. Doing the will of the Father in Heaven, then, is simply coming to salvation in Christ.

May we always be so blessed.

Next time: Matthew 13:10-17

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 12:43-45

Return of an Unclean Spirit

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

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Today’s verses immediately followed our Lord’s refusal to give a special sign to the Pharisees, one which they boldly requested in their unbelief.

The parallel passage for today’s reading is Luke 11:24-26, about which I wrote in 2014. I found the commentaries accompanying that passage — also from my two favourites, Matthew Henry and John MacArthur — clearer than theirs for Matthew’s verses. Therefore, if necessary, please read that post for a deeper understanding.

Another helpful resource is the commentary that accompanies a reading on the same theme — 2 Peter 2:10-22 — which I wrote about in 2011.

Jesus’s message in today’s verses was for the Pharisees and the Jewish people. However, Peter gave the same warnings to his converts. Therefore, the context is both historical and contemporary.

In verse 43, Jesus spoke of an exorcised demon — ‘the unclean spirit’ — which then sought a new host. He might have meant the incomplete exorcisms that the Jewish hierarchy performed on the Jews who were thus afflicted. Jesus, on the other hand, permanently rid people of demons and healed their bodies and souls.

The unclean spirit then goes from person to person to see if it can lodge there. That evil spirit finds ‘waterless places’ — good souls in which it cannot settle.

It decides to return to its original host, now reformed and morally clean (verse 44). It brings with it seven other spirits, even more evil (verse 45). All now infest that person, making him (or her) even more sinful and corrupt than before. Think of the saying ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’.

Jesus ended by saying that it would be the same with the ‘evil generation’ of His time.

Matthew Henry explains the historical significance, which alluded to the destruction of the temple which took place nearly four decades later in 70 AD (emphases mine):

The body of that nation is here represented, First, As an apostate people. After the captivity in Babylon, they began to reform, left their idols, and appeared with some face of religion but they soon corrupted themselves again: though they never relapsed into idolatry, they fell into all manner of impiety and profaneness, grew worse and worse, and added to all the rest of their wickedness a wilful contempt of, and opposition to, Christ and his gospel. Secondly, As a people marked for ruin. A new commission was passing the seals against that hypocritical nation, the people of God’s wrath (like that, Isaiah 10:6), and their destruction by the Romans was likely to be greater than any other, as their sins had been more flagrant: then it was that wrath came upon them to the uttermost, 1 Thessalonians 2:15,16.

Henry then cautions Christians:

Let this be a warning to all nations and churches, to take heed of leaving their first love, of letting fall a good work of reformation begun among them, and returning to that wickedness which they seemed to have forsaken for the last state of such will be worse than the first.

Being a clean-living churchgoer without believing in Christ is likely to lead to eternal condemnation on the last day.

John MacArthur says:

You say, “Why? How is it that it is worse to be moral?” Simply, I think, because the sinful person who is aware of his sinfulness has more vigilance than the moral person who has no such awareness. I think what happens is when a person becomes self-righteous and moral, he then loses the sense of fearfulness about evil, and feels himself beyond the activity of Satan so that Satan can come in en masse, without that individual ever being aware, vigilant, or prepared to deal with it.

You’ll notice in verse 45, it says, “They enter and dwell there,” and the word ‘dwell’ is katoikeo, which means ‘to settle down and be at home.’ They are comfortable there, entrenched; it is the same word used in Ephesians 3:17, when Paul prays that Christ may settle down in your hearts by faith. They come in and find their permanent, settling place in the heart of a moral person. Better the person should have been immoral and face the immorality of his life than to be living under the illusion of morality and be demon-infested.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:15. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte.” In other words, to convert someone to the Pharisaic morality. “And when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Why so? Because the disciple who is discipled into self-righteous legalism is usually more committed to it than his teacher. The person who is new at it is usually more committed to it than the one who has been around a long time and seen all the loopholes. You are already sons of Hell by your morality without Christ and you are making double sons of Hell out of your proselytes. Morality makes a person a son of Hell, and the more you are subscribed to self-righteous morality, the more you intensify your hellish relationship.

I don’t believe, then, that the church’s message is morality in a vacuum without Jesus Christ. I think God has called us to preach the Gospel. Jesus didn’t preach morality; He preached salvation, repentance from sin. I am not interested in making America moral without Christ; all that will do is give them a false sense of security and maybe increase their prospects for damnation. I guess, in some ways, it’s better to be immoral than moral. It is better to be irreligious than religious. I find it much easier to reach someone who is overwhelmed with their sense of sin than to reach someone who is overwhelmed with their sense of righteousness, don’t you?

MacArthur then reminds us who sent our Lord to His death. The immoral people didn’t do it. The notionally holy people who considered themselves above reproach were responsible:

The harlots, thieves, and murderers didn’t do it; the religious people did it. That’s the curse of morality – moral, religious, self-righteous people, confident they are holy in themselves, are utterly deceived into believing that Satan has nothing to do with them, and they have no vigilance or protection, and they can be swarmed by demonic hosts. In the end is in verse 45, and the last state is worse than the first.

Self-righteousness and morality is a curse that ties men up and draws them away from true conviction that can bring salvation. Listen to an illustration from II Peter 2:20. Here, we have a picture of some people who even come to Christianity and listen to Jesus Christ’s message, and they have a head knowledge.

It says, “They have escaped the pollutions of the world.” It doesn’t say they have been cleansed or truly purged, but through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, the standards of the Lord, and the exposure to Christianity, they have escaped the world’s pollutions; they have cleaned up their act and “gotten religion.” They have started living the Christian moral code. But, “They are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”

Why? Because you have a greater judgment if you have a greater amount of knowledge. So not only is there an intensification of demonic activity potentiated, but there is definitely an intensification of judgment on that moral person. That is essentially the message of Romans 2. Then He gives a proverb to illustrate it. “‘A dog returns to his own vomit,'” and, “‘A sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'”

The Pharisees were blind to the evil lurking in their hearts and minds.

Legalists and moralists may be susceptible to the same.

In his commentary on Luke 11:24-26, MacArthur said:

There really is no more serious danger than the danger of morality. It’s like the leper with no sense of pain. Such a person destroys himself without knowing it. Leprosy is a nerve disease that obliterates feeling. And lepers rub off their fingers and rub off their feet and rub off their faces because they can’t feel anything. This is the deadly danger of morality.

So to attempt to clean your life up without Christ coming to dwell there is to be exposed to an even greater danger. That statement, “The last state of that man becomes worse than the first,” is very definitive. In the end, being moral is more dangerous than being immoral. There is no benefit in reformation without regeneration. And this is exactly what the Jews did, exactly what they did. And that’s why in verse 29, the next verse, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation.” Well they wouldn’t see it that way at all. They thought they were a righteous generation and that’s why they hated Jesus. They were moral but filthy. They were void of the purifying presence of God. They were damned by morality, damned by religion, damned by reformation.

For my exposition of 2 Peter 2:10-22, I used a sermon from the Revd Gil Rugh. He explained:

There is great danger in moral reformation. We don’t need reformation. We need regeneration. Keep that in mind. The church loses sight of this as it loses its hold on its responsibility to be the pillar and support of the truth. It gets caught up in all kinds of movements of moral reformation to clean up a life. But, do you realize we are making that person more a convert of hell? If I talk to a drunk, I don’t tell him he ought to clean up his life and stop drinking. It would make his relationship with his wife better, it would make his relationship with his children better. It would give him a better job. No. My goal is not to sweep clean the house. Do you realize that before, he was a drunk on his way to hell, and now he is a non-drunk on his way to hell. He is harder to reach now because he’ll go around and give testimonials about how he cleaned up his life.

There is a fine line between clean living and living in a certain way because we truly love the Lord.

May we live a Christian life through grace and faith rather than legalism and self-righteousness.

Next time: Matthew 12:46-50

 

 

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 12:38-42

The Sign of Jonah

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

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Readers who have been following this series over the past few weeks will notice that throughout Matthew 12, the Pharisees have followed and disputed with Jesus.

None of the following passages, including today’s, are included in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. More’s the pity, because how many times do people today fall into the same mindset of the Pharisees two millennia ago? I speak of unbelievers and mockers: agnostics and atheists.

The Pharisees dogged Jesus from early on in the Sabbath that Matthew recounts in this chapter. They took Him to task for allowing the disciples to munch on grain in their hunger. They took issue with His healing a man’s withered hand shortly after in the synagogue. They accused Him of being in league with Satan in His healing. These men, revered by the Jews for upholding faith and tradition, were, in reality, evil mockers and unbelievers. Hence, Jesus’s warning that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin and calling them a brood of vipers: the mouth reveals the heart.

Today’s passage tells us what happened next. A group of the scribes and Pharisees asked our Lord for a sign to prove to them who He is (verse 38). Matthew Henry thought this was a different group to the previous one. John MacArthur thinks this was a small group — possibly the most senior — of the first.

It was appalling for them to have asked for more signs when they had already seen so many miracles. Even worse, they were asking Him for a sign just for themselves! Jesus told them so (verse 39). He said that the only sign they would see would be that of Jonah. This was a reference to the period between our Lord’s upcoming death and resurrection: three days.

Whilst on the subject of Jonah, Jesus quickly segued into Jonah’s mission, which he rebelled against, hence, his three days in the belly of the great fish. When he repented and agreed to follow God’s instruction to go preach to the heathens in Nineveh, God opened up the great fish’s mouth. Jonah was released. He went to Nineveh. When the people heard his exhortations, they immediately repented, fasted and wore sackcloth and ashes. God called off His divine judgement on the people of Nineveh.

What Jesus was saying is that if the people of Nineveh repented because of Jonah’s words, how much greater are His words — and His miracles (verse 41). Yet, the Jewish hierarchy — upholders of the faith and anticipating the Messiah — refused to accept that He was in their midst.

Our Lord then referred to another story of conversion, that of the Queen of the South — the Queen of Sheba (verse 42).

My exposition of the parallel account of today’s reading — Luke 11:29-32 — explains more about this fabulously wealthy woman, who ruled over the region that is modern-day Yemen, hence Queen of the South. She had heard of the wisdom of King Solomon — there were extensive trade routes even thousands of years ago — and decided to journey with her entourage to meet him. The journey took several months and included crossing the desert. Once she heard Solomon speak, she believed in God.

Jesus was saying that the queen travelled a very great distance to hear Solomon. Yet, right in front of these unbelieving Pharisees was the Son of Man, much greater — the Messiah — and they derided Him.

For these reasons, she — along with the people of Nineveh — would rise in judgement on Jesus’s contemporaries, especially the Pharisees.

The same judgement will be levied upon current unbelievers who have heard the Gospel. Henry says:

if we do not hear the wisdom of Christ, the forwardness of the queen of Sheba to come and hear the wisdom of Solomon will rise up in judgment against us and condemn us for Jesus Christ is greater than Solomon.

MacArthur warns of cults and sects such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses:

There are people today who reject Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Christ and the wisdom of Christ. They may be sitting in a religion, or a church, and someday, pagan Ninevites and a pagan queen, by contrast, will condemn them in judgment. What it is saying is that those who are far off that belief prove that those who are near are responsible [for believing]. If you try to exist within the framework of Christianity and reject Jesus Christ, yours is the greatest condemnation.

It is easy to be trapped in error and heresy, because each contains a germ of truth. This is why it is important to study the Bible and use a good commentary, not a sensationalist one.

There are also many legalistic ‘Christians’ who think the path to holiness lies in following Mosaic Law. These are not necessarily people who have converted from the Jewish religion, either, but any number of Protestants of European descent. Be wary of those who claim to believe in Christ yet never talk about the New Testament other than citing a handful of verses from St Paul’s letters. Most of their biblical references come from the Old Testament, particularly prophets. They tie these into socio-political ‘prophecies’ for the present day. Yet they never speak of the Old Testament foretelling Jesus. One has to wonder what they believe. Ask them. They will be evasive, unable to answer. That’s all we need to know.

Next time: Matthew 12:43-45

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 12:33-37

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

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In last week’s reading (Matthew 12:22-32) Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit brings eternal condemnation.

He was speaking to the Pharisees, who accused Him of having satanic power. That, He said, was a grievous sin against the Holy Spirit.

In today’s reading our Lord continued His message to the Pharisees. He said that one knows a tree by its fruit (verse 33). ‘Make’ in this context may refer to a graft or tending the tree. Where people are concerned, Matthew Henry explains, our words manifest our true natures (emphases mine):

Where grace is the reigning principle in the heart, the language will be the language of Canaan and, on the contrary, whatever lust reigns in the heart it will break out diseased lungs make an offensive breath: men’s language discovers what country they are of, so likewise what manner of spirit they are of: “Either make the tree good, and then the fruit will be good get pure hearts and then you will have pure lips and pure lives or else the tree will be corrupt, and the fruit accordingly. You may make a crab-stock to become a good tree, by grafting into it a shoot from a good tree, and then the fruit will be good but if the tree be still the same, plant it where you will, and water it how you will, the fruit will be still corrupt.” Note, Unless the heart be transformed, the life will never be thoroughly reformed. These Pharisees were shy of speaking out their wicked thoughts of Jesus Christ but Christ here intimates, how vain it was for them to seek to hide that root of bitterness in them, that bore this gall and wormwood, when they never sought to mortify it. Note, It should be more our care to be good really, than to seem good outwardly.

Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers (verse 34), an allusion to Satan and evil serpents. He said this not only in front of them but also the crowd that was present. It’s a strong and damning statement. Earlier, John the Baptist used the phrase in his own ministry (Luke 3:7).

John MacArthur analyses this wording for us:

What does the phrase mean? A viper is the name of a poisonous snake, and that’s the perspective of the passage. The Lord would have been well-acquainted with the many snakes in the land of Palestine; they ranged from very small to large vipers. The majority of them were sort of small, and common in the desert. In fact, their color even hid them and they sometimes looked like dead branches, or like the soil around. Sometimes they would hide beneath rocks or trees, in the shade or in caves, and a man would unwarily come near. They would clamp their teeth into a man and sink them in, pumping in the poison and clinging to the individual’s flesh. That was the case in Acts 28:3, where the Apostle Paul had a viper bite and cling to him, unwilling to release itself. Job spoke of the tongue of the viper that will kill, and that’s the idea. They are dangerous, poisonous snakes.

Why does He select vipers? Because they were perhaps the most dangerous creature in that part of the world; they were the subtlest to be sure, the most deceitful. I also think that they represent the Old Serpent himself, Satan, the Devil – the original snake in Eden. He is the father of these other vipers, if you will. They descended from the Devil himself. They were filled with the poison of deadly legalism, self-righteousness, fatal hypocrisy, treachery, and moral filth. They pumped that into their victims.

The word ‘brood’ could also be translated ‘generation.’ It could mean generation in the sense that they were generated of Satan, or it could also be the idea of a brood. These snakes were produced out of their mothers at a rate of 12-50 in volume. Whenever this little group of Pharisees appeared, they looked to Jesus like a brood of snakes, all co-mingled together with evil, poisonous intent. So Jesus calls them subtle killers with poisoned tongues.

Jesus said that the mouth reveals what is in the heart. The speech of a good person will be good. An evil person’s speech will be bad: if not at first, eventually it will be (verse 35). Henry explains:

The complete Christian in this bears the image of God, that he both is good, and does good.

… It is the character of an evil man, that he has an evil treasure in his heart, and out of it bringeth forth evil things. Lusts and corruptions dwelling and reigning in the heart are an evil treasure, out of which the sinner brings forth bad words and actions, to the dishonour of God, and the hurt of others.

Jesus then warned that on the Last Day, we will be judged by our words (verses 36, 37). Our words reveal our fruits of faith or otherwise. MacArthur says:

What this says is not to obviate or negate salvation by grace through faith, but simply to show you that salvation by grace through faith will demonstrate itself in good works and good words, so that they become the objective criteria by which God can make that judgment.

The words of men are accurate gagues of their hearts; if you have a transformed heart and Jesus Christ has come into your life and transformed your heart, then you will speak words by which God will justify you. If Christ has never changed your heart, then you will speak words by which God will condemn you.

This does not mean we’re not saved by grace. We are saved by grace through faith, that not of works, lest any man should boast. But the next verse says, Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

We are saved by grace through faith unto works and words. The works and the words prove that the faith has been there. So God can look objectively at your words and know whether you’ve been redeemed, and so can you. If you have any question about whether you’re saved, listen to yourself when you talk when no one is around, or when you’re angry, irritated, upset, or thoughtless. Words will reveal what is in your heart.

This also relates to idle, incessant talking that serves no purpose and often leads to gossip. Henry cautions us:

We must shortly account for these idle words[;] they will be produced in evidence against us, to prove us unprofitable servants, that have not improved the faculties of reason and speech, which are part of the talents we are entrusted with. If we repent not of our idle words, and our account for them be not balanced by the blood of Christ, we are undone.

We can pray for help in this regard. MacArthur says:

Our speech should be spiritual, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, loving, purposeful, edifying, gentle, truthful speech, and we should pray what the psalmist prayed in Psalm 141:3, when he said, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”

In the 1970s, he said that a survey of speech showed the average person spoke 25,000 words a day, which, if written down, would amount to between 50 and 60 pages of written text!

If we were to read a transcription of what we said today, what would the content reveal?

The truth of the matter is that the Lord is aware of what each of us has said. May we repent of idle speech which does not serve Him or spread the Gospel message.

Next time: Matthew 12:38-42

 

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 (‘Blaspheming the Holy Spirit’ parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 12:22-32

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

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Last week’s post looked at the preceding verses to this week’s reading. In Matthew 12:15-21, Jesus left the area where He had healed a man with a withered hand in the local synagogue and went to another place where He continued to heal people and make them whole again. Matthew cited and paraphrased Isaiah 42:1-3 to show the Jews — and us — that Jesus truly is the prophesied Messiah and Saviour.

Now someone brought to Him a man who was blind and mute because of demon possession (verse 22). Our Lord healed the man who could then see and speak.

This is both a physical and spiritual healing. Matthew Henry says:

A soul under Satan’s power, and led captive by him, is blind in the things of God, and dumb at the throne of grace sees nothing, and says nothing to the purpose. Satan blinds the eye of faith, and seals up the lips of prayer.

The people watching this were beside themselves with astonishment. Immediately they asked if He was the long-awaited Son of David (verse 23). John MacArthur analyses this verse for us:

The word there means ‘to be totally astounded.’ It is existemi, and it means to be beside yourself with astonishment; it isn’t just saying, “Well, isn’t that something.” It is losing it. In fact, one translator says that it means to be literally knocked out of your senses. Another one says it is to be out of your mind with amazement. To put it in Junior High talk, it is to be blown away. They just couldn’t handle it; it was an overwhelming thing.

Yet, they were trying to reconcile His humble appearance with His magnificent healing power (emphases mine):

… they are saying, “This can’t be the Messiah, can it?” It’s like an 80-percent no but a 20-percent yes. The ‘no’ comes from the fact that He didn’t fit their bill, their design, their preconception; but the 20-percent ‘yes’ comes from the fact that they couldn’t explain His power.

The Pharisees addressed them and alleged that our Lord was in league with Satan (verse 24). No Jew of the time was going to argue with these men considered to be the paragons of God’s people. And the Pharisees were so wrapped up in their own prestige that they were permanently hard of heart, so much so that they accused Him of getting His power from Beelzebul.

MacArthur explains the name:

That is the old word that originally was the name of a Philistine god, Beel comes from Baal. You’ve heard of worshiping Baal, and that is just the ancient pagan word for ‘lord.’ ‘Zebub’ or ‘zebul’ is best connected in translation to the word ‘flies.’ So we go all the way back to the lord of the flies, or the god of the flies.

The Ekronites worshiped the god of the flies, if you can imagine. It was a play on words, because there is another word ‘zebel’ which means ‘dung.’ So apparently, they even called Beelzebub ‘Beelzebel,’ which was a derisive thing, saying, “Your lord of the flies is nothing more than the lord of the dung.” It would be easy to do that play on words, because flies tend to hang around, well, you get the picture. So that is probably what they had in mind.

Through the centuries, this lord of the flies or lord of the dung title for this deity became a very common title for Satan. So to be the prince of demons or Beelzebub is simply using one of the titles of Satan. Jesus recognized this, because in verse 26, when He answers, He uses the word ‘Satan’ in response to their word ‘Beelzebub.’

Jesus pointed out the absurdity of that accusation (verses 25, 26), effectively asking how and why Satan could be working against his own demons, his servants.

Note that the Pharisees were not addressing our Lord. He was going to talk to them, however.

It is likely that the Pharisees were standing closer to the crowd than to Jesus, so He might not have been in earshot but, because He is omniscient, He knew what they had said.

Jesus went further, asking them how their sons were casting out demons (verse 27). Were they, too, in league with Beelzebul?

Or, He asked them, was He healing through the Spirit of God (verse 28)? If so, then the kingdom of God was present among them. Henry explains:

This casting out of devils was a certain token and indication of the approach and appearance of the kingdom of God (Matthew 12:28) … Other miracles that Christ wrought proved him sent of God, but this proved him sent of God to destroy the devil’s kingdom and his works. Now that great promise was evidently fulfilled, that the seed of the woman should break the serpent’s head, Genesis 3:15. “Therefore that glorious dispensation of the kingdom of God, which has been long expected, is now commenced slight it at your peril.” Note, [1.] The destruction of the devil’s power is wrought by the Spirit of God that Spirit who works to the obedience of faith, overthrows the interest of that spirit who works in the children of unbelief and disobedience. [2.] The casting out of devils is a certain introduction to the kingdom of God. If the devil’s interest in a soul be not only checked by custom or external restraints, but sunk and broken by the Spirit of God, as a Sanctifier, no doubt but the kingdom of God is come to that soul, the kingdom of grace, a blessed earnest of the kingdom of the glory.

Jesus expanded on that further by alluding to a break-in (verse 29). If someone is going to plunder the house of a strong man, he’d better be able to overpower that man and bind him first. Therefore, who is the only one strong enough to bind Satan? Jesus.

Henry analyses the verse:

The world, that sat in darkness, and lay in wickedness, was in Satan’s possession, and under his power, as a house in the possession and under the power of a strong man so is every unregenerate soul there Satan resides, there he rules. Now, (1.) The design of Christ’s gospel was to spoil the devil’s house, which, as a strong man, he kept in the world to turn the people from darkness to light, from sin to holiness, from this world to a better, from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18) to alter the property of souls. (2.) Pursuant to this design, he bound the strong man, when he cast out unclean spirits by his word: thus he wrested the sword out of the devil’s hand, that he might wrest the sceptre out of it

Then our Lord said that anyone who was not with Him was His enemy and that anyone who did not gather — spread His message — would scatter, or be lost (verse 30).

He went on to say (verses 31, 32) that many forms of blasphemy can be forgiven — including those against Himself as the humble Son of Man — once one repents but that against the Holy Spirit cannot be pardoned.

MacArthur says that this is because blaspheming the Holy Spirit is doing what the Pharisees have done: allying the Spirit with Satan.

MacArthur unpacks this for us:

He is saying, “You can speak a word against the Son of Man, and that would be forgiveable because you may speak against Him, seeing nothing more than the humanness.” In other words, your perception may not even allow you to be dealing with deity as a factor. And it is not His power on display, so you may be speaking against Him as Son of Man; you are condemning what you perceive in His humanness (even though you’re wrong), you can understand that you can do that without making a comment on His deity at all, because it is the Spirit who is working, not Him, technically.

Another thought is important here, and that is the fact that this is His humiliation. There is a sense in which He is in a mode of humiliation which invites that kind of criticism. In other words, you might say, “If that is the Second Person of the Trinity, I’m not impressed. I mean, He’s a carpenter from Nazareth.” You could speak a word against the human Jesus in His humiliation, that’s forgiveable; you may just not know the facts, who He really is. You may not have seen the evidence, and are just talking at the human level, without a perception of the divine. That’s what He’s saying.

Nevertheless, when you speak against the Holy Spirit, that will not be forgiven you, not in this time period or in the time period to follow, because when you begin to speak against the Spirit, then you are saying, “I recognize the supernatural, I see the supernatural, only I think it’s Hell, not Heaven.” For that, you won’t be forgiven.

Ultimately — and this is important to be able to explain to people, because these are not easy verses to understand:

If you’re looking on the human plane and that’s all you perceive and understand, you can be brought along to believe and understand. But if, when you have seen the supernatural and the ministry of the Spirit of God through Christ, and you conclude that it is of the Devil, you can’t be forgiven because now, you are speaking against the Spirit of God, the power of God, the energy of God, as made manifest through Christ. So, in a real sense, you’re speaking against His deity, His divine nature, and calling it satanic.

It is easier to understand this in the context of the Pharisees, prime examples of the condemned. They spent a lot of their time following our Lord around, witnessing His miracles and hearing His teaching. Yet, as we saw in Matthew 9:32-34 and in this passage, they accused Him of being in league with Satan. They denied the divine source of His power, the Holy Spirit, and — worse — called it satanic. That cannot be forgiven.

Henry explains:

This is such a strong hold of infidelity as a man can never be beaten out of, and is therefore unpardonable, because hereby repentance is hid from the sinner’s eyes.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit which began working through the Apostles starting on that day enabled them to spread the Gospel message, preach, teach and heal in Christ’s name. This is why Confirmation — a sacrament for Catholics, an ordinance for Protestant denominations — is so important. Unfortunately, it seems to be the last time many adolescents ever see the inside of a church. Families agree that once their children are confirmed, they do not have to attend Sunday services any more.

This is, I think, in part, because Confirmation classes are not what they used to be. They are rather watered down. Consequently, adolescents do not understand the nature and importance of the Holy Spirit. Another factor is parental. Mum and Dad have forgotten, or never understood, the Holy Spirit, either. Were their clergy to blame, too? Or was it that they drifted away from worship and the faith?

Those of us who have been confirmed or ‘born again in the Spirit’ would do well to consider how we are using the Holy Spirit’s gifts in our relationship with Christ Jesus and in our daily lives.

In closing, parallel verses for today’s passage are in Luke 12:8-10. It is a pity that neither of these was included in the three-year Lectionary for public worship.

Next time: Matthew 12:33-37

 

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 12:15-21

God’s Chosen Servant

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21     and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

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Last week’s reading ended with Matthew 12:14:

But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

As Jesus is omniscient, He knew their intentions and He left (verse 15). The time of His destruction had not yet come. He had more teaching and healing to accomplish.

Although the Pharisees wanted our Lord destroyed, note how the ordinary Jews followed Him. In His mercy, He healed everyone who had need of it. He ordered them not to make Him known (verse 16).

Why?

Matthew Henry offers these reasons (emphases mine):

1… in suffering times, though we must boldly go on in the way of duty, yet we must contrive the circumstances of it so as not to exasperate, more than is necessary, those who seek occasion against us[:] Be ye wise as serpents, Matthew 10:16. 2. It may be looked upon as an act of righteous judgment upon the Pharisees, who were unworthy to hear of any more of his miracles, having made so light of those they had seen. By shutting their eyes against the light, they had forfeited the benefit of it. 3. As an act of humility and self-denial. Though Christ’s intention in his miracles was to prove himself the Messiah, and so to bring men to believe on him, in order to which it was requisite that they should be known, yet sometimes he charged the people to conceal them, to set us an example of humility, and to teach us not to proclaim our own goodness or usefulness, or to desire to have it proclaimed. Christ would have his disciples to be the reverse of those who did all their works to be seen of men.

Matthew says this was to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy (verse 17):

The scope of it is to show how mild and quiet, and yet how successful, our Lord Jesus should be in his undertaking …

He refers to Isaiah 42:1-3:

1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.

I say ‘refers’, because he reinterprets a few of the verses.

Remember that Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience, to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

John MacArthur explains:

Matthew wants us to know that it is not only the Messiah, but the very Messiah prophesied by Isaiah. So he says, “All this in order that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet.” Isaiah said He would be like this, and the key is in verses 19-20. “He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory.”

That’s the heart of what Isaiah wants to say as the defense of Christ in prophetic literature, but he also adds the beginning of verse 18 and the end of verse 21, so we take it all. It’s one of the most strikingly beautiful descriptions of Jesus Christ in Scripture, taken from Isaiah 42:1-4.

God was speaking to Isaiah, referring to His Son — His chosen servant with whom He is well pleased (verse 18). This is a recurring phraseology in the Gospels:

What did He say at the Son’s baptism? “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” What about at the Transfiguration? “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” What did He do when Jesus died and rose again but exalt Him, place Him at His right hand, and put all authority under Him, and gave to Him to send the Holy Spirit, which is the ultimate act of His commendation. He was commended by the Father. Doesn’t that show you how far off the religious leaders were? The one whom God was commending, they were condemning; the one whom God made alive, they killed.

“Behold My servant, whom I have chosen.” ‘I have chosen’ is a marvelous phrase; it’s a word that is only here in the Greek New Testament and appears nowhere else. It indicates great firmness of choice. For example, it is used in secular Greek to speak of adopting a child, really taking them in in a firm commitment. He has chosen the Son. In Hebrews 1, it talks about how He chose the Son to fulfill this role. In Isaiah 49:1, it says the same thing in the wonderful verse about how the Father has chosen the Son. So much was this a part of the Messianic identity that the Messiah became known as ‘the Chosen One’ in the Jewish mind, so when Isaiah says, “My servant, whom I have chosen,” he is designating a title for the Messiah that the Jews in Jesus’ time would know. They would know that as Matthew is quoting this, he is quoting a Messianic passage; they know that he is saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen One.

The Spirit was upon Him from the beginning. For mankind, God the Father demonstrated this after Jesus’s baptism, when:

the Spirit of God descended like a dove. But I don’t believe that is when it started; I believe that Jesus Christ was indwelt by the power of the Spirit of God from the time He was conceived. It says of John the Baptist in Luke 1 that he was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. If that was true of a human being, believe me, it must have been true of the God-Man. It also says in Matthew 1:20 that He was conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew uses ‘Gentiles’ instead of Isaiah’s ‘nations’. Our Lord came for them — the Chosen — first, then for the Gentiles.

Verse 19 speaks of Jesus’s gentle, quiet manner. Indeed, the preceding verses tell us that He left quietly and told people not to speak of Him when talking of their healing. ‘Cry aloud’, MacArthur says, refers not to an agonising cry as at the Crucifixion but an animalistic noise like a bark or shriek. Furthermore, Jesus was not a rabble-rouser, calling for revolution, despite what some misguided theologians purport today.

Verse 20 speaks of His gentleness. Unlike mankind, He would not break a limp reed nor put out a fading light. MacArthur interprets the verse as meaning the hurt, the injured, the spiritually weak:

This is a picture of the hurting people, the ones everyone else steps on, discards, throws away, the bruised reeds that don’t play the tune anymore, the smoking flax that can’t give any light to illuminate the situation. This is the weak, powerless, helpless, ones destroyed by sin and suffering, those bowed down with care, the unworthy, the ones without spiritual resources, the whole world of trampled, despised, ignored, suffering, hurting people. These are the kind of people that human conquerors have no time for, those that the Pharisees walked all over, the broken people. But those are the ones the Lord goes to; He doesn’t break those kind of bruised reeds or put out what’s left of the smoldering flax.

In fact:

He strengthens them. He picks up the reed and plays a melody through it that has never been heard. He will fan the flame that is smoldering on that wick so that it brightens and lights the room. He will pick up the sick and tax collectors and prostitutes and sorrowing and fearful and doubters and hungry and sinners, and meet their needs. That’s the kind of Savior He is, and He is the antithesis of the religious leaders around Him. That is the indication of Isaiah, that He is indeed God with us, Emmanuel, because that is the heart of God.

Ultimately, He will bring justice:

He will win the victory and consummate the victory …

One writer put it this way, “Down in the depths of the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore. Touched by a loving hand, wakened by kindness, cords that are broken will vibrate once more.” Jesus came along and put a new song, fanned the fading flame, reached out to those who suffered. Christ has come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, not to heal those who are well, but those who are sick and face it. How different He is from other religious leaders; He ought to be – He is God.

Therefore, we have hope because of — and thanks to — Him (verse 21).

Despite our suffering in this life, He will wipe away our tears and heal our broken hearts. He will save us and bring us to everlasting life. What a beautiful promise!

Next time: Matthew 12:22-32

 

 

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