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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 26:6-13

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

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Matthew 26 begins in Wednesday of Jesus’s last Passover Week, which corresponds to the Christian Holy Week.

Today’s passage, however, is a flashback. It recounts an event that took place on the Saturday before, after Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. Verse 13 gives us the reason for inserting this flashback — in Jesus’s own words.

Jesus was dining at Simon the Leper’s house (verse 6). Jesus had already healed him, otherwise, Simon would have been living outside of Bethany away from healthy people. John MacArthur tells us that this was a very special occasion (emphases mine):

Leprosy in that day was incurable. The only cure for leprosy was Jesus Christ. So it’s pretty obvious that Simon was a recipient of the healing power of Christ. And one way he could show his loving gratitude to Christ was to offer Him a supper. Oh the excitement would be unspeakable. You wouldn’t even believe it. Simon a former leper, outcast of outcasts, now having the Healer, God in human flesh, in his own home and hosting Him and inviting Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to be a part and all twelve of the disciples. This is a good group for supper, approaching twenty people. And there may have been others, we don’t know. But Mark writes of it, and Matthew writes of it, and so does John, because it is a very important occasion.

With Lazarus alive once again as well, the atmosphere must have been one of unspeakable joy and gratitude.

As everyone reclined at dinner, ‘a woman’ approached Jesus to anoint him with a precious ointment in an alabaster flask (verse 7).

There are a few things to explain about this verse.

Everyone in the ancient world reclined to eat. An article from ScienceNordic tells us that this might have been to aid digestion. It’s a bit like stretching out on the sofa but propping yourself up enough to eat and drink while watching television:

“We think pressure on the antrum – the lower portion of the stomach – has a lot to do with discomfort after a meal,” says [Jørgen] Valeur, a senior resident at Oslo’s Lovisenberg Diakonale Hospital …

According to the researchers, if you recline on your right side, the lower part of the stomach expands so you feel stuffed, but if you lie on your left side, the load on the antrum is reduced.

“It’s fair to assume that a person can actually alleviate the discomfort after a meal by lying on the proper side,” says Valeur.

Matthew left the woman unidentified, which poses difficulties for readers after his time, as we can see from Matthew Henry’s commentary:

The woman that did this, is supposed to have been Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. And Dr. Lightfoot [Bible scholar of the era] thinks it was the same that was called Mary Magdalene.

However, MacArthur says she is Mary — Martha and Lazarus’s sister — and not Mary Magdalene. A similar story in Luke 7:36-39 features another woman and a different Simon. Simon was a common name in that time. The Simon in Luke 7 was a Pharisee:

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

MacArthur says:

it’s a different incident in chapter 7. And the woman who does the anointing is different. It isn’t Mary; it’s a wicked, sinful woman, in that case. But Matthew, Mark and John record this incident.

The parallel accounts are Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:1-8, both of which are included in the three-year Lectionary. So, yes, this event is included in readings for public worship. Mark and Matthew did not name the woman, but John did. Mark has the scene at Simon the Leper’s house but John has it at Martha, Mary and Lazarus’s home.

Here is Mark’s version:

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Here is John’s:

Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound[a] of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it[c] for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

About the mention and non-mentions of the woman’s name, MacArthur has this:

Matthew doesn’t tell us, and I don’t know why; we have no reason to know why he didn’t tell us except the Holy Spirit knew what John was going to say and it wasn’t repeated here for whatever reason. Some say it wasn’t mentioned by Matthew because he wrote so early in 50 that he was afraid there might be repercussions on Mary for what she had done. John, who wrote 40 years later, didn’t care because the scene had changed and she wouldn’t have been in such a difficult position. But that’s speculation.

Mark’s Gospel was written first, so Mary would have been alive and well, as she was when Matthew wrote his subsequently.

The alabaster ‘flask’ is translated as ‘box’ in older editions of the Bible. Some foreign languages, such as French, use ‘box’ (boîte) for a squat jar, e.g. of jam or olives.

The flask’s ointment was very expensive. MacArthur tells us:

It’s really a bottle made out of alabaster, very thin, and it would be a very fat or round bottle with a very narrow neck, and it would be corked or plugged at the top. And inside of it was very precious perfume. How precious? A year’s wages, Mark tells us, 300 denarii, which would be a year’s wages…very, very costly.

You say, “Why did they even have it?” Well, they must have been a somewhat wealthy family to even have something like that …

Because of the lack of hygiene, hosts put this on their guests before eating in a group so no one would offend others with their odours. Recall that when people entered a house the first thing they did was to remove their sandals and wash their feet. The next thing would have been the application of a perfumed oil or ointment, or nard, as Mark and John wrote.

It is possible that the nard in all four accounts was so highly concentrated, hence the expense, that a little went a long way. Perhaps the contents in the flask would have lasted for years. Therefore, to put all of it on Jesus’s head looked wasteful and extreme (verse 8). Naturally, the disciples reacted the way we would today (verse 9): ‘That could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor!’

Jesus disapproved of their reaction, praising the woman (verse 10). We would do well to highlight verse 11:

For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.

The woman was worshipping her Lord and Redeemer. We should be worshipping more rather than putting all our effort into serving the poor. While we can lessen the effects of poverty, we will never be able to eradicate it.

What does every catechism say about our purpose on earth? My childhood catechism says: ‘God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world.’ Before service we have the concept of worship in ‘know Him’ and ‘love Him’. Service comes third. Matthew Henry says:

Sometimes special works of piety and devotion should take place of common works of charity. The poor must not rob Christ[;] we must do good to all, but especially to the household of faith.

Note in this story that Mary performed an act of worship in her anointing of Christ. Henry explains:

1. As an act of faith in our Lord Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed. To signify that she believed in him as God’s anointed, whom he had set king, she anointed him, and made him her king. They shall appoint themselves one head, Hosea 1:11. This is kissing the Son.

2. As an act of love and respect to him … Note, Where there is true love in the heart to Jesus Christ, nothing will be thought too good, no, nor good enough, to bestow upon him.

MacArthur explains this generous worship:

Most of us worship…let’s see, what can I afford this week; I’ll give that, that won’t affect me. We know very little about this, this unrestrained adoration where you just crush the narrow neck of that alabaster bottle and pour its contents all over Jesus effusively, profusely. She was pouring out her love, her heart of compassion, her devotion. She was honoring the One that was going to die and rise again for her salvation, to bear her sin. She did it for you, for me; we all should have done it. We all, if we had been there, knowing what we now know, would have poured out everything on Him, too. She understood what the disciples didn’t want to understand. She wasn’t bound up in wanting to get right into the kingdom and have the glory. She apparently understood more of Jesus’ teaching then they did. She symbolizes the effusive, profuse, magnanimous outpouring of love that God desires.

Jesus went on to say that Mary was preparing Him for burial (verse 12). Did she really know that He was going to die very soon?

I mean, why shouldn’t she know He was going to die and rise, His enemies knew that. His enemies said, “Look out for this guy. He says He’s going to die, and He says if He dies in three days He’ll rise.” If they knew it, why shouldn’t she know it? She knew. She couldn’t prevent His death, she wouldn’t prevent His death. His death was for her and for all other sinners, so she poured out her love. And the word “half poured” is a very strong term—lavish, profuse.

It is ironic that the Twelve, who spent three years with Him, did not understand this. Yet, Mary did.

You would have thought that the Apostles would have been the ones worshipping Jesus to the extreme. They did not. They thought of the waste of fragrant ointment.

Mary was the one who worshipped Him more fully than can be imagined.

And even afterwards, they still did not grasp what she had done in that sense — or what was about to happen in a week’s time.

Jesus concluded by saying that wherever the Gospel is preached, this story will be told in her memory (verse 13), meaning that hers is the example Christians are to follow. This is why the Epistles all emphasise worship of Jesus Christ over everything else.

If we truly and fully understood what our Lord Jesus did for us via His death and resurrection we, too, would be worshipping the way Mary did that evening.

That’s something for many of us, myself not least, to seriously think about.

We can worship outside of church as well, in our private devotions. I can better understand why some great preachers got up at dawn to pray for four hours before beginning their day. It was not a tick-in-box activity of ‘doing something’ but something they wanted to do — every day. The Holy Spirit was working through them, revealing the Eternal Truth. Perhaps we shut out the Spirit a bit too much. We’re too busy or too distracted by worldly things.

Until today, I never really grasped what Jesus said about Mary and His criticism of Martha earlier in His ministry. To my mind, ensuring Jesus had something to eat and drink was just as important as sitting in His presence. Now, thanks to this event, which happened days before the Crucifixion, I understand. MacArthur reminds us:

In chapter 10 of Luke, and verse 42 it is, Jesus said about Mary that Mary has chosen the better part. You remember that. Worship is better than service. Learning better than doing. Sitting at the feet of the Savior, better than business.

If only more Christians — especially clergy in their sermons — explained Mary in this manner, we would all understand. May we learn and follow her example.

Next time: Matthew 26:26-29

Bible read me 2Matthew 24:1-36 was one of my early Forbidden Bible Verses postings, dating from January 2010, before I began studying each of the Gospels methodically.

It is unfortunate that the three-year Lectionary compilers omitted this passage from the set of readings for public worship.

While verses 1 and 2 and 15 to 22 pertain to the destruction of the temple, the rest of the verses concern what will happen in the world until the end of time: wars, natural disasters, famines, plagues (pestilences), earthquakes and persecution.

Jesus also warns us against false prophets, including those who say they are He.

People ask why terrible things happen. Jesus says these are inevitable until the end of time (verses 27-36), which no one can predict:

35Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

36But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

The parallel entry is Mark 13:3-13 — also excluded from the three-year Lectionary! Unbelievable. These are essential readings for everyone.

Next time: Matthew 26:6-13

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 23:29-33

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

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This is the seventh and final woe — condemnation — that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here), fourth, fifth and sixth.

Today’s reading recounts the worst judgement that Jesus placed on the scribes and Pharisees. Once again, He called them hypocrites (verse 29). This was because they presented themselves as being holy and pure but were filled with sin and hardness of heart inside.

They feigned reverence for the prophets whose graves they rebuilt and decorated, claiming that had they lived in the time of the prophets — when their fathers (ancestors) did — they surely would have followed those Old Testament martyrs.

Jesus rightly called them out on implicating themselves in mentioning their fathers, ancestors, who took part in killing those same prophets they refused to follow (verse 30). He condemned them because here He was, the Messiah whom the prophets foretold, and — once again, like their fathers — they planned to kill Him (verse 31). Let them therefore continue to fulfil that unspeakable sin, ‘the measure of your fathers’, so deeply offensive to God (verse 32).

Matthew Henry observes that it is easy to honour prophets — and, in our time, saints — because, like the scribes and Pharisees, we were not alive back then to heed their warnings against sin. Those warnings would have cut us to the quick and angered us in their truthfulness. As Henry puts it, translating a Latin saying (emphases mine):

Note, Carnal people can easily honour the memories of faithful ministers that are dead and gone, because they do not reprove them, nor disturb them, in their sins … They can pay respect to the writings of the dead prophets, which tell them what they should be but not the reproofs of the living prophets, which tell them what they are. Sit divus, modo non sit vivus–Let there be saints but let them not be living here.

How true.

It is easy for us to say that had we been alive when Christ was physically present, we surely would have followed Him. Henry explains why we deceive ourselves with such reasoning. We do not even heed faithful ministers of the Gospel in the present day:

Note, The deceitfulness of sinners’ hearts appears very much in this, that, while they go down the stream of the sins of their own day, they fancy they should have swum against the stream of the sins of the former days that, if they had had other people’s opportunities, they should have improved them more faithfully if they had been in other people’s temptations, they should have resisted them more vigorously when yet they improve not the opportunities they have, nor resist the temptations they are in. We are sometimes thinking, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, how constantly we would have followed him we would not have despised and rejected him, as they then did and yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated.

As for the scribes and Pharisees, John MacArthur interprets Jesus’s judgement plainly:

Jesus says, you are a witness to the fact that you indeed are a son of those who killed the prophets … Well, what were they right there, right then plotting to do? … Kill Him. I mean, they were so consumed with their own lying deceit that they didn’t even see the reality of the fact that they were killing one greater than the prophets, the son of God. Verse 32, “Fill up then the measure of your fathers.” What does He mean? Do it. Go ahead. You’re scheming to kill the greatest prophet of all. That’ll fill up the full measure of the murderous attitude of your people against God’s messengers. Do it.

You ought to underline verse 32

Jesus concluded His discourse on the woes by calling these truly wretched men ‘serpents’ and ‘brood of vipers’ and asking them how they could escape ‘being sentenced to hell’ (verse 33). ‘Blind’ men, ‘hypocrites’ and now ‘brood of vipers’; all the terms from the seven woes fit perfectly. We would expect no less from our Saviour.

MacArthur says Jesus pointed out that these men were dangerously false teachers. He cautions us against similar men and women who subvert and corrupt the Gospel message:

They kept people out of heaven. What does a true spiritual leader do? What? Brings them into heaven. They did all they could to send people to hell. To make them as evil as possible, double sons of hell. What does a true spiritual leader do? He is used by God to make men not hellish, but what? Righteous. They subverted the truth. What does a true spiritual leader do? Leads people into truth. They appeared pious, but only used people for their own gain. What does a true spiritual leader do? He serves people, meets their needs. They contaminate everybody they touch. What does a true spiritual leader do? He makes holy anyone he touches. And they proudly thought themselves to be better than everybody else. What does a true spiritual leader say? I am the least of all the chief of sinners. God help us to be true spiritual leaders and to avoid these false leaders. People beware[,] would you? Beware. Be thankful God’s given you true leaders.

Therefore, let us pray for divine grace, spiritual fortitude and for discernment.

Understanding what the Bible says, particularly the New Testament, will help us to know false teachers when we see them.

Next time: Matthew 24:1-36, followed by Matthew 26:6-13

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 23:27-28

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

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This is the sixth of seven woes Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here), fourth and fifth.

Jesus condemns them, calling them whitewashed tombs: brilliantly white on the outside but full of decay on the inside.

That analogy described the state of their hearts and souls. These men looked holy and pious but were filled with the worst kinds of sin (verse 28). By steering the faithful away from Jesus, whom they so hated, they were also keeping them from knowing God. In addition, they had their temple racket, described in the aforementioned woes, which was nothing short of extortion. Matthew Henry explains:

God is jealous for his honour in his laws and ordinances, and resents it if they be profaned and abused.

… they were at this time plotting to murder Christ, to whom all the prophets bore witness.

The Jews had a practice of whitewashing tombs, because touching one meant that person was unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:16):

Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

Painting them white was akin to a huge ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ sign.

Henry tells us (emphases mine):

And it was part of the charge of the overseers of the highways, to repair that whitening when it was decayed. Sepulchres were thus made remarkable, 2 Kings 23:16,17.

John MacArthur has more on this practice, especially important before Passover. A person travelling to Jerusalem for that feast could not participate in certain rituals if he accidentally touched a tomb, because that act would have made him unclean:

On the 15th Avadar, which is the month of March in Israel in the time of our Lord, there was a very unusual custom. It was right after the spring rains and the rains that came washed away many things. One of the things they washed away was white-wash. You say where was white-wash used? It was on walls, it was on houses sometimes, but most specifically the Jews used to white-wash the tombs. They would white-wash those limestone caves and limestone tombs where people were buried, the more prominent people were buried that way. And the reason they did that was because in preparation of Passover, along the roads and the hillsides where people would be traversing, they feared that people might inadvertently touch a tomb and thus be defiled. And because of the ceremonial cleansing process necessary, they could void out certain activities in the Passover season.

And so to accommodate the Passover visitors who might not know where the tombs were and also just to keep the rest of the people clear of them, they went around the city of Jerusalem with white-wash. In some cases, they white-washed the entire tomb, historians tell us. In other cases, they just painted white-washed bones on the outside so that people wouldn’t touch them lest according to Numbers 19:16, they’d be ceremonially defiled.

The lesson here is to pray often for divine grace so that we remain pure in heart and mind. A pure interior will reflect itself in our outward behaviour and demeanour.

Similarly, we must avoid false teachers — and other leaders — who present themselves as being holy yet have dark souls and depraved hearts.

Satan doesn’t present himself as being evil. He masquerades as being respectable.

Henry warns against hypocrisy, which he saw as the worst sin of all:

Hypocrisy is the worst iniquity of all other. Note, It is possible for those that have their hearts full of sin, to have their lives free from blame, and to appear very good.

He reminds us that God sees and knows all things.

Nothing is hidden from the Almighty:

what will it avail us, to have the good word of our fellow-servants, if our Master doth not say, Well done? When all other graves are opened, these whited sepulchres will be looked into, and the dead men’s bones, and all the uncleanness, shall be brought out, and be spread before all the host of heaven, Jeremiah 8:1,2. For it is the day when God shall judge, not the shows, but the secrets, of men. And it will then be small comfort to them who shall have their portion with hypocrites, to remember how creditably and plausibly they went to hell, applauded by all their neighbours.

Next time: Matthew 23:29-33

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 23:25-26

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

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This is the fifth of seven woes — judgements — that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here) and fourth.

In this woe, Jesus aptly compared the scribes and Pharisees to a cup and plate which look clean on the outside but are filthy on the inside. They were concerned how pious and prayerful they appeared to each other and to the average Jew. Yet, inside, they were corrupted by greed and excess.

Jesus called them hypocrites for this (verse 25). Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

They were all for the outside, and not at all for the inside, of religion. They were more desirous and solicitous to appear pious to men than to approve themselves so toward God.

In speaking of greed and self-indulgence, Jesus was referring to their system of encouraging costly sacrifices and gifts (see the third woe links in my second paragraph). They had a racket going. John MacArthur tells us:

It all is so religious and everything in it and on it was gained by extortion

Extortion, by the way, is the word harpage. It means to plunder or rape; they are rapists … it says they are full of extortion, and notice this word, excess. That means unrestrained desire for gain; acarsia. And unrestrained desire for gain; a lack of self-control. So the Lord is saying they appear so scrupulous. They appear so religiously meticulous. They appear so pious in their system and everything they serve you was gained with their filthy desires. Gained by the abusive people. They are greedy rapists and robbers who steal and plunder the souls and the money and the hearts and the minds and the goods of everybody they can touch.

Jesus was condemning their practice of making their racket look holy and ceremonial, when, in fact, it was an abomination before God.

Therefore, He exclaimed, ‘Blind Pharisee!’ (verse 26). They were spiritually blind to their deep sins of extortion and greed. Henry tells us:

They thought themselves the seers of the land, but (John 9:39) Christ calls them blind … Self-ignorance is the most shameful and hurtful ignorance, Revelation 3:17.

This is why He told them, in speaking of the clean inside of the cup and the plate, to examine their hearts. A pure heart is reflected in pure thoughts and actions. Henry applies this to Christians:

Note, the principal care of every one of us should be to wash our hearts from wickedness, Jeremiah 4:14. The main business of a Christian lies within, to get cleansed from the filthiness of the spirit. Corrupt affections and inclinations, the secret lusts that lurk in the soul, unseen and unobserved, these must first be mortified and subdued. Those sins must be conscientiously abstained from, which the eye of God only is a witness to, who searcheth the heart.

MacArthur applies these verses to false teachers:

So prevalent today, the false spiritual leaders become rich, they become fat, they become wealthy with their paraded piosity and they have the heart of a thief.

Henry’s analysis of Jesus’s words applies equally to laity and false teachers. This is beautiful and true:

Observe the method prescribed Cleanse first that which is within not that only, but that first because, if due care be taken concerning that, the outside will be clean also. External motives and inducements may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy but if renewing, sanctifying grace make clean the inside, that will have an influence upon the outside, for the commanding principle is within. If the heart be well kept, all is well, for out of it are the issues of life the eruptions will vanish of course. If the heart and spirit be made new, there will be a newness of life here[,] therefore we must begin with ourselves [that] first cleanse [,] that which is within[;] we then make sure work, when this is our first work.

Next time: Matthew 23:27-28

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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 23:23-24

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

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This is the fourth of seven woes — judgements — that Jesus pronounces on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here).

The fourth woe concerns their being more interested in the minutiae of observing the tithes of herbs and seeds rather than God’s greater laws of justice, mercy and faithfulness (verse 23). Jesus rebukes them for not observing both.

The parallel verse is Luke 11:42:

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Jesus also related the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, involving a Pharisee who boasted of tithing all that he possessed (Luke 18:9-14).

The command to give tithes of herbs and seeds to God is stated in Deuteronomy 14:22:

“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.

It was easier for the Pharisees to enhance their reputations by placing great weight on crop and seed tithes rather than exhort themselves and the faithful to love their neighbour. The same is true today of some churches where legalism takes priority over mercy and compassion.

Another aspect, as Matthew Henry surmises, is that the Pharisees got some sort of self-enhancement by exacting tithes:

it is probable that they had ends of their own to serve, and would find their own account in it for the priests and Levites, to whom the tithes were paid …

John MacArthur tells us that tithes continue in Judaism, although they are no longer of the same nature as in the Old Testament.

However, where the Church is concerned, tithing is not obligatory (emphases mine):

… the tithe is mentioned six times in the New Testament. Three times in the gospels and each time it is mention in the text condemning the abuse of it by the scribes and the Pharisees. Three times in the book of Hebrews when it simply reaches back and describes its historical reality in the history of Israel. At no time is it ever mentioned in the New Testament as binding on the church. It had to do with taxation of the national government of Israel.

That cannot be emphasised enough. Churchgoers do not have to tithe. Nor should they be required to do so.

Verse 24 is one I have wondered about all my life. Before explaining its meaning, it is worth pointing out that Jesus once more called the scribes and Pharisees ‘blind guides’ — spiritually blind leaders of the faithful. They were false teachers actively leading their people to perdition, hence the seven woes.

Previously, Jesus made a previous reference to them as ‘blind guides’ in verse 16, as ‘blind fools’ in verse 17 and as ‘blind men’ in verse 19.

What was Jesus speaking of when He rebuked them for ‘straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel’?

As we know, Mosaic law, which observant Jews still abide by today, forbids the consumption of certain creatures. The gnat is the least of these and the camel the greatest. This goes some way towards explaining the meaning behind the verse.

In some versions, such as the King James, the verse says ‘straining at a gnat’, which causes confusion for modern readers and listeners. MacArthur tells us:

“You blind guides, you strain out,” it should be, “you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” You say what in the world is this? Well, you have to understand something about this. The word strain means to filter, diulizo, filter.

In Jesus’s time, the Jewish leaders were careful to remove any gnats that might have flown into their wine. MacArthur explains:

They make wine and as they’re making, crushing the grapes, a little gnat is flying around, he lands in the grapes, he gets gobbled up in the grapes, winds up in the wine or maybe he just flies in the wine and lands there. So the fastidious Pharisee drank his wine like this. Then he picked the gnat off his teeth

That made them look pious to each other and to onlookers.

What all were ignoring were the greater violations of God’s law: the business (which it was) of the faithful making oaths to free themselves from observing one or more of the Ten Commandments in favour of ‘tradition’. One of these was the Corban which released one from honouring one’s father and mother (Mark 7:9-13), which I discussed in 2010. Here are the verses (emphases mine):

9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

This is the explanation of how the Corban worked:

Jesus points out to them that they distorted the commandment of honouring one’s father and one’s mother. According to the Pharisees, if a child did not wish to obey that commandment, he had a get-out clause (verses 9-10). The child could swear by the gold of the temple and the gift upon the altar — the Corban — that he washed his hands of his parents (verse 11).  Should his parents ask anything of him, all he had to do is say that he made his oath (verses 12 and 13). 

This is what He rebuked in Matthew 23:16-19.

The Corban and similar evasions of the Commandments were what Jesus referred to as ‘swallowing a camel’. It was a figurative way of saying that their tradition was a huge sin and violation of God’s supreme law in favour of insistence on fine minutiae that brought them prestige. It was as bad as if they had swallowed a camel.

MacArthur gives us this interpretation of Jesus’s message:

In other words, you are all confused. You’re whole priority system is inverted. You’re just fooling around with stuff that doesn’t matter. And blind to the enormous evil that you’re consuming. You’re afraid to eat the tenth mint leaf and then you’re allowing into your life hypocrisy, dishonesty, cruelty, greed, self-worship; incredible.

We can better understand this verse now that it has a context.

In closing, Matthew Henry reminds us of the importance of observing God’s greater laws and Jesus’s rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, who cared nothing for the ordinary or destitute Jew:

Judgment and mercy toward men, and faith toward God, are the weightier matters of the law, the good things which the Lord our God requires (Micah 6:8) to do justly, and love mercy, and humble ourselves by faith to walk with God. This is the obedience which is better than sacrifice or tithe judgment is preferred before sacrifice, Isaiah 1:11. To be just to the priests in their tithe, and yet to cheat and defraud every body else, is but to mock God, and deceive ourselves. Mercy also is preferred before sacrifice, Hosea 6:6. To feed those who made themselves fat with the offering of the Lord, and at the same time to shut up the bowels of compassion from a brother or a sister that is naked, and destitute of daily food, to pay tithe-mint to the priest, and to deny a crumb to Lazarus, is to lie open to that judgment without mercy, which is awarded to those who pretended to judgment, and showed no mercy nor will judgment and mercy serve without faith in divine revelation for God will be honoured in his truths as well as in his laws.

John MacArthur concludes:

It’s amazing how fastidious religious people can be and so far from the reality of what God seeks. So many false spiritual leaders reverse divine priorities, substitute insignificant forms and outward acts of religion for essential realities of the heart. You see, that’s the point. So the false spiritual leaders are condemned for exclusion, perversion, subversion, inversion, how about extortion for a fifth; extortion.

This is why true Christians condemn legalism. It has no basis in Scripture. God will judge it harshly.

Next time: Matthew 23:25-26

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 23:20-22

20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

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Last week’s post, which concerned Matthew 23:16-19, discussed the first part of the second woe — judgement — that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and the Pharisees.

If you haven’t yet read it, those verses explain the context of today’s passage.

Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees spiritually ‘blind guides’ and ‘blind fools’ for encouraging a twisted means of swearing oaths, indicating promises the faithful made at the temple which were to be kept. Their ungodly system maintained that oaths made with gifts, sacrifices and gold were more binding than those made by the altar or by the temple. This is because they wanted people to put more money in the temple coffers — with which they lined their pockets.

Last week’s verses ended with this question from Jesus:

19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

He provides the answer in today’s reading.

Essentially, any and all types of oath made in the temple were binding because they were made in the name of the Lord.

First, swearing by the altar is swearing by the Almighty, to whose honour the Jews created it (verse 20). An oath made by the altar cannot be disregarded or non-binding merely because the altar is an object. That was the excuse the scribes and Pharisees told the faithful to use as a get-out clause. In reality, it was all the more binding because whatever was offered on it was given to God. Therefore, someone making an oath in that manner was actually invoking God’s witness to it. Matthew Henry explains:

for it was the altar of God and he that went to that, went to God, Psalm 43:4; Psalm 26:6.

Secondly, oaths made by the temple were equally binding (verse 21). The temple was God’s house as it was dedicated to His service and He dwelt therein. Therefore, swearing an oath there was doing so in His name.

Thirdly, there were the oaths made by heaven (verse 22). Jesus said that these were the most sinful (Matthew 5:34-35):

But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

(I’ll get to verse 35 shortly.)

Making an oath by heaven is swearing by the throne of God in His kingdom. It is the most direct type of oath made in His name.

That said, God expects anyone who makes these types of oaths to fulfil them. Otherwise, as Henry tells us:

he resents the affront done to him in the form of the oath, so he will certainly revenge the greater affront done to him by the violation of it.

Furthermore:

Christ will not countenance the evasion of a solemn oath, though ever so plausible.

Therefore, we can better understand Matthew 5:35, which forbids any type of oath because God created earth, and Jerusalem is His holy city (Psalm 48:2).

John MacArthur explains that swearing by anything is swearing by the Almighty:

I mean, everything you touch eventually is going back to God, right? You swear by anything that represents God, a gift, an altar, the gold of the temple, the temple, the heaven of heavens, the throne of God and you’re going to touch the God who fills it all.

In other words, have you forgotten that God is everywhere, as creator of all and Lord of all?

But, if you’re going to make an oath, you’d better keep it, because you made it in God’s name. This is why people only make one in a court of law and it is taken so seriously that to violate that oath is criminal.

As for the Pharisees and scribes telling people certain types of oaths were more binding that others, MacArthur says that Jesus was telling them:

They subverted the truth. They developed reasoning that undermined truth.

He warns that false teachers in our churches do much the same thing in different ways:

False spiritual leaders don’t tell the truth folks, but they parade [piety]. Try to cover up for their lying pretense. We need to be careful of that. They subvert whole houses. They by their great covetousness, says Peter, use feigned words to make merchandise out of you. They lie. They say they need money when they don’t need money. They say God told them something, when He never told them anything. They say Jesus led them into something, when He never led them into anything. They lie. Beware of those liars who are false spiritual leaders.

We have seen that happen with televangelists and faith healers who then get involved in terrible scandals. They dupe people, especially for money.

Cults and sects are also common hunting grounds for false teachers in search of naive believers.

This is yet another reason why it is so important to know and understand the Holy Bible.

Regularly praying for discernment is a great thing. The Holy Spirit is always there to help us.

This brings to mind Jesus’s counsel to the Apostles when He sent them out on their trial ministry (Matthew 10:16):

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Be nice, be good but be careful.

Next time: Matthew 23:23-24

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 23:16-19

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

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Last week’s entry discussed the first of the seven woes that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees for their ungodly, false teaching which prevented people from entering the kingdom of heaven.

In today’s passage, Jesus takes them to task for their — not Scripture’s — tradition on oaths. It was called the Corban, which means ‘given to God’ and involved a gift or sacrifice on the altar of the temple.

Jesus criticised the Corban (Mark 7:9-13), which I discussed in 2010. Here are the verses (emphases mine):

9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

This is the explanation of how the Corban worked:

Jesus points out to them that they distorted the commandment of honouring one’s father and one’s mother. According to the Pharisees, if a child did not wish to obey that commandment, he had a get-out clause (verses 9-10). The child could swear by the gold of the temple and the gift upon the altar — the Corban — that he washed his hands of his parents (verse 11).  Should his parents ask anything of him, all he had to do is say that he made his oath (verses 12 and 13). 

Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for this practice. In the first woe (Matthew 23:13-15), he called them ‘hypocrites’. Here he calls them ‘blind guides’ (verse 16) and ‘fools (verse 17).

‘Blind guides’ is easily understood in the literal sense but Jesus primarily meant it as being spiritually blind, leading faithful Jews to perdition. In Matthew 15:10-20, He talked about what defiles a person:

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

The Pharisees were offended. Jesus told His disciples:

14 Let them alone; they are blind guides.[a] And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

The spiritual condition of good people following spiritually blind leaders is bad. However, even worse is the condition of such leaders who deliberately deny, scorn or block out the truth from their followers. Their punishment and condemnation will be much the greater.

Jesus pronounced woe on these blind guides for honouring an oath made by the gold of the temple but dismissing one made by the temple (verse 16).

He called them fools because valuing an oath made by gold over one made by the temple made no sense (verse 17). An oath made by gold was only worth anything because it was made in the temple (verses 18, 19).

What they were doing was wrong on three counts. Matthew Henry explains.

First, Corban was not following God’s law. It was:

the work of men’s hands …

An oath is an appeal to God, to his omniscience and justice and to make this appeal to any creature is to put that creature in the place of God. See Deuteronomy 6:13.

Secondly, they placed a higher obligation on oaths made by gifts and sacrifices to enrich themselves than on an oath by the temple, which brought them no material gain. That said, neither should have been made in the first place:

Here was a double wickedness First, That there were some oaths which they dispensed with, and made light of, and reckoned a man was not bound by to assert the truth, or perform a promise. They ought not to have sworn by the temple or the altar but, when they had so sworn, they were taken in the words of their mouth. That doctrine cannot be of the God of truth which gives countenance to the breach of faith in any case whatsoever. Oaths are edge-tools and are not to be jested with. Secondly, That they preferred the gold before the temple, and the gift before the altar, to encourage people to bring gifts to the altar, and gold to the treasures of the temple, which they hoped to be gainers by

Thirdly, they lured many faithful people into their deceitful tradition:

Those who had made gold their hope, and whose eyes were blinded by gifts in secret, were great friends to the Corban …

Looking at Jesus’s statement and question about this, we see that He is telling them that without the oaths being made in the temple — God’s house — the gold or gift has no meaning. Therefore, how can an oath made by gold be more important than one made in the temple? It is the location — the altar in the temple — that renders the gold holy:

19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

Henry tells us:

The temple and altar were dedicated to God fixedly, the gold and gift but secondarily.

Henry gives a practical Christian application of this lesson, warning us not to place our good works above or on a par with justification by faith:

Christ is our altar (Hebrews 13:10), our temple (John 2:21) for it is he that sanctifies all our gifts, and puts an acceptableness in them, 1 Peter 2:5. Those that put their own works into the place of Christ’s righteousness in justification are guilty of the Pharisees’ absurdity, who preferred the gift before the altar.

Where making promises and taking oaths are concerned, John MacArthur cautions us to take them seriously:

Keep your promise. Keep your word. God hates lying. So many Old Testament texts in the Psalms particularly. Let me just call your attention to several just as a point of contact. In Psalm 50, verse 14, “Offer unto God thanksgiving and pay thy vows unto the Most High.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Promise to God, keep your promise. Psalm 56:12, “Thy vows are upon me oh God, I will render praises unto thee. I’m bound by my promises to you oh God. I won’t break my word.” Psalm 61, verse 8 and these are just samples, “So will I sing praise to thy name forever, that I may daily perform my vows.” Psalm 66:13, “I will go into the house with burnt offerings. I will pay thee my vows.” Psalm 76:11, “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” And it goes on like that a lot of places in the Old Testament. Keep your word to God. Keep your word to men.

Next week’s entry will Jesus’s final words on this woe.

Next time: Matthew 23:20-22

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 23:13-15

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.[a] 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell[b] as yourselves.

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Last week’s entry on Matthew 22:23-33 ended with the final verse of that chapter. The Jewish leaders finally stopped challenging Jesus (emphases mine):

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

Matthew 23 has Jesus’s Seven Woes to the scribes and Pharisees, His damning response to them.

Some translations have Eight Woes. Today’s verses show two instead of three. The bone of contention is verse 14, which appears in some Bibles, e.g. the King James Version — Matthew Henry’s — but not in others, e.g. John MacArthur’s:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation

As true as it is, John MacArthur tells us why it is excluded:

… the older manuscripts of the New Testament do not include verse 14, which is to say that if in the early manuscripts you don’t have this verse and it shows up in the later manuscripts, it’s usually evidence that it was added later. That it wasn’t in the original. What is said in verse 14 is true about the Pharisees and scribes. In fact, it looks like a scribe took it out of Mark Chapter 12 and also Luke Chapter 20. Both of those Chapters mention the same kind of things. And probably a well meaning scribe thought that it fit in so well he just took it from Mark and Luke and put it here.

Matthew Henry offers an interesting explanation for this: that the eight woes are

in opposition to the eight beatitudes, Matthew 5:3.

Matthew 23:1-12 recounts our Lord’s condemnation of the scribes and the Pharisees. He does not want His disciples to either follow them or act like them. This can be applied to false teachers in the Church:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi[b] by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.[c] 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

In verse 13, Jesus pronounces the first woe on them. MacArthur explains woe:

The word woe in the Greek is a most interesting word. It’s this word, lie, which doesn’t even sound like a word. It sounds more like a painful guttural cry … It’s an onomatopoetic word. That is it sounds like its meaning. It is a word that just utters similar to the Hebrew word to howl, which is the word hoi. It’s a word used, for example, in the Septuagint to express grief, despair, sorrow, dissatisfaction, pain, and the threat of losing your life. It’s used in the New Testament to speak of sorrow, to speak of judgment. It’s the mingling of punishment and pity, cursing and compassion.

You could almost translate with the word alas; alas. And that’s the word you find in Revelation talking about Babylon in Chapter 18; alas. It’s as if to say inevitable judgment is coming, but oh how sad is that inevitable judgment. Judgment then is mingled with pity in the word woe.

In the same verse, He calls them hypocrites, from:

the word hupokrites. It originally came from a term which meant actor. Someone who played a part on a stage. Someone who pretended to be something he wasn’t.

And it was a good word that I guess etymologically in its origination, but it came to be a very bad word and finally it came to mean deceiver; deceiver. One who pretends in an evil sense, who acts evilly.

MacArthur has an excellent quote from the late professor of Divinity, William Barclay (1907-1978), who taught at the University of Glasgow:

someone who manifests what he calls “theatrical goodness who parades an outward goodness but inwardly is evil. Who wants people to see him give.”

Jesus said that these men were shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. Henry tells us:

that is, they did all they could to keep people from believing in Christ, and so entering into his kingdom.

Jesus added that they do not ‘enter’ — or believe in Him — but, even worse, prohibited others from doing so. This went all the way back to John the Baptist’s ministry, when many Jews were baptised and repented of their sins. The religious leaders never did this and, so, when Jesus began His ministry, dogged him with quarrels and accusations from the start. All of these were designed to discredit Him and discourage the faithful.

MacArthur says:

In other words, this mass of people in Israel were moving toward the kingdom … Repenting of their sin and trying to get their lives right and listening to the preaching of this prophet who confronted their evil lives and called them to obedience. In fact, it says in Chapter 3 of Matthew verse 5, “Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about the Jordan and they were baptized by him in the Jordan confessing their sins.”

And right then the Pharisees showed up and the Sadducees and he said “oh generation of snakes,” you snakes, “who warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Bring forth the fruit of repentance.” That’s pretty confront[ational] stuff. But He knew why they were there. Here were all these people getting ready to move toward the kingdom and here came the very guys who would slam the door in their face. The false religious leaders. So the picture is one of movement of flow toward the kingdom and these people slammed the door in the faces.

This is the pursuit of the person who’s looking for religious answers, who’s searching for God, who’s searching for some spiritual reality. And they shut up the kingdom. How’d they do that? By denying the word of God, misinterpreting the word of God, denying that Jesus was the Messiah. Denying His deity. Denying salvation by grace. Denying the need for repentance. They shut it in the faces of the people with a works righteousness system that had no place for Jesus Christ.

Now the point that its making here is that false spiritual leaders damn peoples’ souls to hell. So you don’t deal with this lightly.

In verse 15, Jesus pronounces ‘woe’ on these ‘hypocrites’ a second time, this time for travelling far and wide to make converts to the works righteousness system that He came to abolish by fulfilling the Law.

There were two types of proselytes, or converts, in Jesus’s time. One was a proselyte of ‘the gate’, which meant that the person took part in religious worship with the Jews. The second was a proselyte of ‘righteousness’, which meant that he fully adhered to Mosaic Law and became a full convert, which included circumcision. There were more proselytes of the gate than those of righteousness for obvious reasons. However, this is why the Pharisees widened their net to travel so extensively in search of those who would enter fully into their religious system.

Jesus fully condemned this because of all the zealotry it brings with it:

you make him twice as much a child of hell[b] as yourselves.

MacArthur explains:

Have you ever noticed that a convert to a cult is more zealous and aggressive for the cult than somebody raised in it? That’s pretty much routine. That’s almost true of anything. That can be said of Christianity. Very frequently people saved out of the world and brought into Christ from an ungodly, un-Christlike background are more zealous for their newfound faith than people that are raised up in it.

There’s something about that tremendous transition that is made. That euphoria of coming into the movement that gives you a great amount of zeal. And so here this new convert is filled with more fanatical zeal for his newfound system than even the ones that brought him in. And naturally there’s a euphoria about having discovered what he thinks is the truth and the newness and he’s not been in long enough to find out all the problems with it. And he becomes a double son of hell in the sense that he is perverted even beyond his teachers. And more zealous even than they are. And so they make a spiritual convert who turns out to be perverted instead of finding God, instead of finding heaven, he becomes a son of hell.

This extended into the Apostolic Age, the time of the Apostles’ ministries. Henry reminds us:

In fury against Christianity the proselytes readily imbibed the principles which their crafty leaders were not wanting to possess them with, and so became extremely hot against the truth. The most bitter enemies the apostles met with in all places were the Hellenist Jews, who were mostly proselytes

However, St Paul was a Pharisee by upbringing and was every bit as zealous. He took his persecution to distant places before his Damascene conversion, effected directly through Christ Himself (verses 14, 15). Acts 26 records his testimony before King Agrippa:

4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Then Paul’s dramatic conversion occurred:

21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

It’s difficult to imagine how dire that period, with its physical violence, must have been for those early Christians, suffering at the hands of zealots.

In closing, I wanted to look at the Pharisees’ treatment of widows, often taken advantage of. This occurs today as well, including in the Church. Who is more vulnerable than a woman alone, especially one grieving the loss of her husband?

Henry explains what the Pharisees did under the cloak of religiosity and law. They ingratiated themselves to these vulnerable women to gain use or ownership of their property for their own personal gain:

What their wicked practices were they devoured widows’ houses, either by quartering themselves and their attendants upon them for entertainment, which must be of the best for men of their figure or by insinuating themselves into their affections, and so getting to be the trustees of their estates, which they could make an easy prey of for who could presume to call such as they were to an account? The thing they aimed at was to enrich themselves and, this being their chief and highest end, all considerations of justice and equity were laid aside, and even widows’ houses were sacrificed to this. Widows are of the weaker sex in its weakest state, easily imposed upon and therefore they fastened on them, to make a prey of. They devoured those whom, by the law of God, they were particularly obliged to protect, patronise, and relieve. There is a woe in the Old Testament to those that made widows their prey (Isaiah 10:1,2) and Christ here seconded it with his woe. God is the judge of the widows they are his peculiar care, he establisheth their border (Proverbs 15:25), and espouseth their cause (Exodus 22:22,23) yet these were they whose houses the Pharisees devoured by wholesale so greedy were they to get their bellies filled with the treasures of wickedness! Their devouring denotes not only covetousness, but cruelty in their oppression, described Micah 3:3, They eat the flesh, and flay off the skin. And doubtless they did all this under colour of law for they did it so artfully that it passed uncensured, and did not at all lessen the people’s veneration for them.

This reading gives us two practical takeaways for our era.

First, let us not do anything by coercion, forcing people to give their money, property or time to the Church. Leave it for church members to decide if that is what they wish to do. Coercion is no different to works righteousness and legalism.

Secondly, new converts quite rightly are ‘on fire for Christ’, as I so often read online. However, those who are ‘all in’ — another commonly used expression — should take care how they present this to their families, especially wives and children. Many who have come to the church from the occult or addiction display an off-putting tendency to push their faith down other people’s throats. Their approach in its mildest form looks nutty but, when extreme, has the potential to become threatening and violent.

Coercion and threatening behaviour is not in His Name nor is it evidence of the Gospel of Grace. In fact, it often leads to cultlike allegiances and alliances.

Pray for guidance, discernment and a cool head.

Next time: Matthew 23:16-19

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 22:23-33

Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection

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

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

————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They marvelled at His response and went away.

However, Henry makes this distinction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

MacArthur tells us of Ruth:

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

God blessed Boaz and Ruth for their obedience.

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

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

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

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

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

Because:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur unpacks this for us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second thing I see is His commitment to Scripture.

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

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

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

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

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

Next time: Matthew 23:13-15

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