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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 (as cited below).

Romans 2:1-5

God’s Righteous Judgment

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

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My posts on Romans 1 are here and here. The second one, covering verses 16 to 32, is particularly important.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that Paul addressed Romans 1 to the Gentile world.

In Romans 2, Paul turns his attention to the Jewish world. As Christianity was still in its infancy at that time, AD 56, the Jews were the predominant believers in God.

As such, they upheld the standard for religious morality and believed they were exempt from judgement because of the covenant God made with them. Yet, Paul tells them that they, too, are imperfect and sinful, guilty of the same things they condemn in others (verse 1).

MacArthur says that Paul addresses six types of judgement in Romans 2 (emphases mine below):

the first three – knowledge, truth and guilt, and the last three: deeds, impartiality, and motive. God judges on the basis of those six things. He judges men on the basis of their knowledge, He judges them on the basis of the truth, He judges them on the basis of their guilt, He judges them on the basis of their deeds, He judges them with impartiality, and He judges their motives. Those are the six elements that come together to show how God judges.

Knowledge comes in the first verse.

MacArthur explains the point Paul makes and discusses ‘Therefore’, the first word of that verse:

… let’s look at the first one in verse 1, knowledge. “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest, for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself for thou that judgest doest the same things.” Now, let’s see what this is saying – fascinating verse. It begins with “therefore.” What he’s saying is this – and the “therefore” ties us, doesn’t it, backwards to the previous chapter? Some people have been confused by that “therefore” but there’s really no reason to be. Listen: Because what was true of those in 1:18-32 is also true of you, you are also without excuse. That’s the connection. If you go back to verse 18 – watch, here it is: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth.” Verse 19, “That which may be known of God is manifest in them.”

In other words, because they know the truth, the end of verse 20 says, they are without what? Excuse. Now, go right to verse 1 of chapter 2: “Therefore you also are inexcusable, O man.” Why? Implication: because you also know the truth. And you know how you prove that you know the truth? You prove it because you are judging others, and if you have a criterion by which to judge others, you prove that you must know the truth. You’re just as inexcusable.

Now, they knew the truth. Obviously, they knew the truth. It was clear that all men knew the truth from chapter 1, and what was true of those people is also true of the Jew in chapter 2. They knew not only from external natural revelation, they knew from conscience.

Paul, referring to his previous verses on immorality (Romans 1:16-32), says that God will judge anyone who is guilty of those sins, Gentile — and Jew — alike (verse 2).

Therefore, Paul reasons, how can the Jew escape judgement if he is guilty of such sins (verse 3)? The Jew already knows God, so, as MacArthur puts it:

you have the knowledge. In fact, you have a more complete knowledge so you’re even more inexcusable.

Paul poses another question, asking if the Jew believes God’s kindness extends to him in all circumstances, misunderstanding that His kindness is meant to lead His people to repentance not relieve them from His judgement (verse 4).

Then Paul lays down the spiritual hammer, warning the Jews of his day that they are laying up God’s wrath against themselves for their collective ‘hard and impenitent heart’ (verse 5).

MacArthur ties together the end of Romans 1 and these first five verses of Romans 2 as follows:

Look at verse 32 at the end of chapter 1. It says even the pagans know the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death. Even the pagans know what is right and wrong. Even the pagans can apply God’s standard to their own life if they chose, much more you who have received His revelation, and you who sit in judgment on the pagans give evidence that you know. This would be like a judge who condemns a criminal by applying the law. He, therefore, makes himself responsible, obviously, to keep that same law if he’s going to sit in judgment on somebody else.

And then he goes to the next statement – powerful: “For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself.” Now, when you show the law of God as applied to somebody else, you prove that you know that law, and in knowing that law you condemn yourself. A pretty powerful statement. You condemn yourself. And this is really what Jesus said. If you look for a moment in Matthew 7, you can see where Paul got this whole thing: through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was really restating what our Lord said in Matthew 7 verse 1, “Judge not that you be not judged.”

Now, what this means is not don’t make a proper evaluation, you’re supposed to make a proper evaluation of things. It even tells you to do that later on in the same chapter when it gets down into verses 15 to 20 and tells you to examine and make a decision based upon the fruit that you see in someone’s life. But what it means here is stop criticizing, stop being condemning and censorious and critical and fault-finding and self-righteous. Stop playing God. Stop trying to impugn people’s motives when you can’t even read their hearts. Stop pushing your criticism to the point where you’re playing God because in verse 2, with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you again.

In other words, if you show that you can judge everybody else, then you show that you ought to be judged by that same standard. If you know it so well to apply it to other people, you better make sure it isn’t going to be applied to you. That’s why James 3:1 says stop being so many teachers for theirs is a greater condemnation. Why is a teacher’s condemnation greater? Because the more he knows, the more he therefore condemns himself. And then the Lord goes on in chapter 7 to talk about before you get a splinter out of another guy’s eye, why don’t you get a two-by-four out of your own eye? It’s a fatal tendency – isn’t it? – to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize our own. And this was the classic line of the Jew who sat in judgment on everybody and thought he himself was exempt, and God says, “You’re not exempt. Not only are you not exempt, you’re even more inexcusable, and you prove it because you are applying the law to somebody else, which proves you know it, and it’s going to condemn you, too.”

As to misinterpreting God’s kindness in verse 4, MacArthur says — note, quoting Matthew Henry:

Matthew Henry, that commentator of old who has so many helpful thoughts in his commentary on the Scripture said, “There is in every willful sin a contempt of the goodness of God.” And that’s right. Whenever you sin or whenever I sin, we show contempt for God’s goodness.

Let me read you just two verses, and you need not turn to them, but in Hosea – Hosea, of course, records for us God’s love for wayward Israel, and in the 11th chapter and the first verse, God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him,” and that sort of sets the tone for the thoughts in the chapter, and verse 4: “I drew them with cords of a man with bands of love and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws and I laid food before them.” In other words, I didn’t have a bit in their mouth, I fed them and I led them gently and I drew them with love. And verse 7 says, “And My people are bent to backsliding away from Me.” I mean here was God with love and tenderness and graciousness and kindness and mercy, reaching out to draw Israel and they were just sliding away from Him.

Now, let’s go back to verses 4 and 5 and look at the several parts that make up these thoughts. The word “despisest” in the Authorized is a very strong word. It means basically to grossly underestimate the value of something, to grossly underestimate the significance of something. It is a failure to assess true worth. It is making light of the riches of the goodness of God, and this is the blackest of sins, by the way. The worst sin is not rights violated, the worst sin is mercy despised.

Let’s look at what happened. They failed to really evaluate, they failed to see the true worth of the riches of God’s goodness. They didn’t know how valuable it was, and men still don’t know. I mean everybody alive in the world today has experienced the goodness of God. I’ll say that again. Everybody alive in the world today has personally experienced the goodness of God and experiences it every breath they takein many, many ways, not the least of which is that the Lord makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust and the Lord gives them food to eat and the Lord gives them a fire to keep them warm and the Lord gives them water to refresh their thirst and the Lord gives them food to fill their hungry stomach and the Lord gives them a blue sky and a warm sun and the Lord gives them green grass and beautiful mountains and whatever it is, and the Lord gives them people to love. In every way, God has demonstrated His goodness.

And by the way, the word “goodness” is a very important word, chrstots. The idea is really kindness. It’s translated kindness in Galatians 5 in the list of elements of the fruit of the Spirit. It speaks of God’s benefits, His kindnesses to men, and then the word “forbearance” – anoch – is the word for truce. It’s the word for the cessation of a hostility. It’s the word for the withholding of judgment. So God pours out blessing and He holds back judgment. He is forbearing; that is, He says, “Okay, a truce, no hostility, I’ll just be kind to you and I’ll withhold My judgment.” And the word “long-suffering” – makrothumia – means patience. It is a word that signifies one who has the power to avenge but doesn’t use it. It’s a great characteristic of God, He’s so patient. Over and over again in the Scripture, we read about the patience of God, the patience of God. God is not willing that any should perish. God is long suffering because of that toward us because He’s not willing that we should perish.

In closing, Matthew Henry has this to say about God’s kindness and mercy, designed to bring about our repentance:

See here what method God takes to bring sinners to repentance. He leads them, not drives them like beasts, but leads them like rational creatures, allures them (Hosea 2:14); and it is goodness that leads, bands of love, Hosea 11:4. Compare Jeremiah 31:3. The consideration of the goodness of God, his common goodness to all (the goodness of his providence, of his patience, and of his offers), should be effectual to bring us all to repentance; and the reason why so many continue in impenitency is because they do not know and consider this.

How true.

I cannot add anything more other than to ask that all of us think about that in the days ahead, while we are cooped up at home because of coronavirus lockdowns.

Next time — Romans 2:6-11

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry (here and here) and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Romans 1:8-15

Longing to Go to Rome

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,[b] both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

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I purposely delayed writing about Romans, although it follows Acts. However, it is heavily doctrinal, which is why I wanted to write about Hebrews first. Having the basics from Hebrews will make Romans more digestible. Parts of it are strongly worded and some might find certain passages objectionable. Nevertheless … sexual sin was a problem then and it has not changed much nearly 2000 years later.

Matthew Henry says that Paul wrote his letters to the Romans in AD 56, while he was staying in Corinth:

Paul made a short stay there in his way to Troas, Acts 20:5,6. He commendeth to the Romans Phebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1), which was a place belonging to Corinth. He calls Gaius his host, or the man with whom he lodged (Romans 16:23), and he was a Corinthian, not the same with Gaius of Derbe, mentioned Acts 20:4. Paul was now going up to Jerusalem, with the money that was given to the poor saints there; and of that he speaks, Romans 15:26.

As to the content (emphases mine):

The great mysteries treated of in this epistle must needs produce in this, as in other writings of Paul, many things dark and hard to be understood, 2 Peter 3:16. The method of this (as of several other of the epistles) is observable; the former part of it doctrinal, in the first eleven chapters; the latter part practical, in the last five: to inform the judgment and to reform the life. And the best way to understand the truths explained in the former part is to abide and abound in the practice of the duties prescribed in the latter part; for, if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, John 7:17.

Henry divides the chapters into separate parts, summarised as follows:

– Doctrinal — a) the way of salvation (Romans 1 – 8), b) the saved (Romans 9 – 11);

– Practical — Romans 12 – 14;

– Personal — Romans 15 and 16 in which Paul writes of his life at that time and mentions his friends.

Paul had been keen to get to Rome for some time. He still had a few years’ wait ahead. The church in Rome was established by Judaeans who were present in Jerusalem at the first Pentecost. They set sail for Rome to spread the Good News. However, there were also Romans present at the first Pentecost, and they returned with enthusiasm, telling their friends what they had witnessed on that glorious day. The emperor Claudius had banned them from the city, so they had to be in exile for a few years, but then they returned, and it was upon their return that Paul wrote his greatest epistle (letter).

The church in Rome had no one founder and there were little groups of new Christians scattered about with no central organisation. John MacArthur concludes:

So there had been no apostolic establishing. And I think in Paul’s heart he sensed the tremendously strategic location of the Roman church in the heart of the empire and he knew they needed to be solidified and he said, “I want to come in order to impart to you some spiritual gift in order to establish you.”

MacArthur surmises that, given Paul’s ministry, he also wanted to convert more Romans:

His heart literally could see the tremendous potential of reaching Rome for Christ.

He also wanted to go for more personal reasons:

I think he thought about himself, too. Chapter 15:32, he says, “I want to come to you with joy by the will of God so that I can be refreshed.” I mean, I just want to fellowship with you. So he wanted to go for the sake of the church, for the sake of the lost, for his own sake. And I think, too, he wanted them to know him for several reasons. First of all, so they could pray for him. Chapter 15, verse 30: “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake and for the love of the Spirit, strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” He wanted people praying for him. He wanted them praying for him.

From Rome, Paul had intended to travel to Spain and evangelise there.

Romans is unarguably one of the great books not only of the New Testament but of the Bible as a whole.

Throughout history, many great theologians read it often. Matthew Henry says that, the early Church father, St John Chrysostom, was one of them:

Chrysostom would have this epistle read over to him twice a week.

St Augustine of Hippo was converted by it. For many years, he led a dissolute life lusting after women. MacArthur tells us:

in the summer of A.D. 386 a man named Augustine, a native of North Africa, who had for two years been the professor of rhetoric at Milan, sat weeping in the garden of his friend Alypius. He was almost persuaded to begin a new life and yet he found it impossible to break with his old life. As he sat, historians tell us that he heard a child singing in a neighboring yard, “Tolle Lege, Tolle Lege,” a little melody that says, “Take up and read, take up and read.”

It struck him that perhaps that was something he should do and so he picked up a scroll which lay at his friend’s side. That scroll contained a portion of the book of Romans. He read it, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

“No further would I read,” he said, “nor had I any need. “Instantly, at the end of this sentence a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” And in that very moment, from one sentence in the book of Romans, the church received the great Augustine, the framer of much of its theology.

Martin Luther studied Romans for ten months:

from November of 1515 to the following September of 1516, he daily spent himself in the understanding of that epistle. And as he daily prepared his lectures, he became more and more appreciative of the centrality of the Pauline doctrine of justification by…what?…faith. He writes, “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, `the righteousness of God.’ Because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous. Night and day I pondered until I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby through grace and sheer mercy He justifies us by faith. There upon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise, the whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the righteousness of God had filled me with hate, it now began to fill me inexpressibly with a sweet love. The passage of Paul became to me the gateway to heaven.” And need I say what contribution Martin Luther made? …

Luther said, “Romans is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel.”

John Calvin said:

If a man understands it, he has a sure road open to him to the understanding of the whole of Scripture.

Nearly two centuries later, on May 24, 1738, an Anglican, John Wesley, was similarly enlightened in London:

His biographer says that he went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where a man was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine he wrote in his journal, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, “I myself felt my heart strangely warmed.” Wesley goes on, “I felt I did trust in Christ and Christ alone for my salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken my sins away, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.” And so it was in Aldersgate Street at the reading of the book of Romans that John Wesley was redeemed. And we all know the contribution he made.

MacArthur says that Romans continues to speak to Christians:

It speaks to the issues we face today morally, for it speaks about adultery. It speaks about homosexuality. It speaks about perversion. It speaks about killing and hating and lying and civil disobedience. So it speaks to us morally. It speaks to us intellectually. It tells us why man is so confused because he possesses a reprobate mind. It speaks to us socially. It tells us how we are to relate to one another. It speaks to us psychologically. It tells us where true freedom comes to deliver men from guilt. It speaks to us spiritually for it answers our despair with a hope in the future. It speaks to us internationally for it tells us the ultimate destiny of the earth and specially the plan for the nation Israel. It speaks to us nationally, for it tells us our responsibility to the government. It speaks to us supernaturally, for it defines for us the infinite power of God. And it speaks to us theologically because it teaches us relationships between flesh and spirit, law and grace. But most of all, it brings God to us profoundly.

This is Paul’s greeting to the Romans. Note the biblical doctrine in it:

Paul, a servant[a] of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David[b] according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul then pays the Roman Christians a great compliment, saying that their faith is renowned in the Roman Empire (verse 8).

Matthew Henry explains:

Paul travelled up and down from place to place, and, wherever he came, he heard great commendations of the Christians at Rome, which he mentions, not to make them proud, but to quicken them to answer the general character people gave of them, and the general expectation people had from them.

He’s never met the Romans, yet he wrote the rest of the verses in today’s passage as if they were close friends of his.

Paul says that he never stops praying for them (verse 9) and is desperate to meet them (verse 10).

MacArthur says of today’s verses:

I read this passage, I can’t tell you how many times, before something finally clicked in my mind as to what was going on here. In fact, I can’t remember a passage in months and months that I went over and over and over like I did this, and never really got the whole thing put together till half way through yesterday after spending all week on it. Because I never could really see what the key was. And then there was a sort of, “Eureka!” And I caught a phrase in verse 9: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son.” And the phrase that jumped out at me was: “whom I serve with my spirit.”

Paul explained his desire to see them was rooted in imparting a spiritual gift to strengthen them (verse 11).

Henry explains that the Romans were beginning to go off piste spiritually:

The church of Rome was then a flourishing church; but since that time how is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! Rome is not what it was. She was then espoused a chaste virgin to Christ, and excelled in beauty; but she has since degenerated, dealt treacherously, and embraced the bosom of a stranger; so that (as that good old book, the Practice of Piety, makes appear in no less than twenty-six instances) even the epistle to the Romans is now an epistle against the Romans; little reason has she therefore to boast of her former credit.

However, Paul was encouraging in his reproach, saying that he hoped each party could encourage the other in faith (verse 12).

He explained that various circumstances prevented him from getting to Rome and that he wanted to meet them as much as he did the Gentiles (verse 13).

Henry elaborates:

What he heard of their flourishing in grace was so much a joy to him that it must needs be much more so to behold it. Paul could take comfort in the fruit of the labours of other ministers.–By the mutual faith both of you and me, that is, our mutual faithfulness and fidelity. It is very comfortable when there is a mutual confidence between minister and people, they confiding in him as a faithful minister, and he in them as a faithful people. Or, the mutual work of faith, which is love; they rejoiced in the expressions of one another’s love, or communicating their faith one to another. It is very refreshing to Christians to compare notes about their spiritual concerns; thus are they sharpened, as iron sharpens iron.–That I might have some fruit, Romans 1:13. Their edification would be his advantage, it would be fruit abounding to a good account. Paul minded his work, as one that believed the more good he did the greater would his reward be.

Paul presented his excuses to the Romans for not being with them (verse 14): his ‘obligations’ to the Greeks (educated) and ‘barbarians’ (uneducated). ‘Barbarians’ was the customary word used at the time for the uneducated. Paul called them the ‘wise’ and the ‘foolish’. By this, he meant he felt obliged to spend time preaching to and teaching them about Christ.

However, nothing could take away his eagerness to get to Rome to further his ministry there (verse 15).

Matthew Henry says:

Though a public place, though a perilous place, where Christianity met with a great deal of opposition, yet Paul was ready to run the risk at Rome, if called to it: I am ready–prothymon. It denotes a great readiness of mind, and that he was very forward to it. What he did was not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. It is an excellent thing to be ready to meet every opportunity of doing or getting good.

MacArthur asks us to reflect on Paul’s eagerness:

He’s like a racehorse in the gate, banging against the steel, waiting for the thing to open. He’s like a sprinter who gets in those blocks, and I can remember that feeling so well. And that guy puts his hand up and up goes the gun and you’re just…and there’s usually in a very important race somebody goes too soon and they have to restart. Paul was like a sprinter and God had to hold him back he was so ready to go.

Are you so eager? Is that the kind of service you render? Or does somebody have to get behind you and shove with all their might to get you involved? Does your wife have to give you the typical Sunday afternoon lecture to get you here Sunday night? To get you to the Flock group or the Bible study? Or are you eager? If it comes out of your heart, you’re eager.

And, you know, it’s amazing that he was as eager as he was because he knew what a volatile place Rome was. He knew they would despise him. He knew they would reject his message. He knew they hated Christ.

What an apostle, what a driven spirit, what an ambassador for Christ was Paul. He was fearless.

In 2009, in the early years of Forbidden Bible Verses, I wrote about Romans 1:16-32, which was not in the Episcopal Lectionary index I was using at the time. Most of those verses are now included in their Lectionary readings. Even in the usual Lectionary readings, however, some verses are omitted, because they contradict what we are seeing today in certain types of sexual relationships. Therefore, it is very important to read that post.

Next time — Romans 2:1-5

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.

Hebrews 13:20-25

Benediction

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us[a] that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Final Greetings

22 I appeal to you, brothers,[b] bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.

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Last week’s post discussed the author’s exhortation to respect those in ministry and his prayer request for himself and Timothy.

These are the final verses of Hebrews. I will be writing separately about the first eight verses of Hebrews 13, as they provide an invaluable guide to the Christian life.

A benediction is a blessing. The author of Hebrews gives a particularly splendid one, mentioning ‘the God of Peace’, the Resurrection, Jesus as the ‘great shepherd’ and ‘the blood of the eternal covenant’ (verse 20).

Matthew Henry has a superb analysis of this verse, which is especially important as we are drawing near to Good Friday and Easter (emphases mine):

He offers up his prayers to God for them, being willing to do for them as he desired they should do for him: Now the God of peace, &c., Hebrews 13:20. In this excellent prayer observe, 1. The title given to God–the God of peace, who was found out a way for peace and reconciliation between himself and sinners, and who loves peace on earth and especially in his churches. 2. The great work ascribed to him: He hath brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, &c. Jesus raised himself by his own power; and yet the Father was concerned in it, attesting thereby that justice was satisfied and the law fulfilled. He rose again for our justification; and that divine power by which he was raised is able to do every thing for us that we stand in need of. 3. The titles given to Christ–our Lord Jesus, our sovereign, our Saviour, and the great shepherd of the sheep, promised in Isaiah 40:11, declared by himself to be so, John 10:14,15. Ministers are under-shepherds, Christ is the great shepherd. This denotes his interest in his people. They are the flock of his pasture, and his care and concern are for them. He feeds them, and leads them, and watches over them. 4. The way and method in which God is reconciled, and Christ raised from the dead: Through the blood of the everlasting covenant. The blood of Christ satisfied divine justice, and so procured Christ’s release from the prison of the grace, as having paid our debt, according to an eternal covenant or agreement between the Father and the Son; and this blood is the sanction and seal of an everlasting covenant between God and his people.

The author prays that, God, author of all these great blessings, equips the Hebrews through Jesus Christ to thereby accomplish His will in everything they do, recognising Christ’s inestimable glory (verse 21). Note that the author says that whatever good they — and we — do comes from God and His Son working through them and us.

Henry continues his analysis:

5. The mercy prayed for: Make you perfect in every good work, &c., Hebrews 13:21. Observe, (1.) The perfection of the saints in every good work is the great thing desired by them and for them, that they may here have a perfection of integrity, a clear mind, a clean heart, lively affections, regular and resolved wills, and suitable strength for every good work to which they are called now, and at length a perfection of degrees to fit them for the employment and felicity of heaven. (2.) The way in which God makes his people perfect; it is by working in them always what is pleasing in his sight, and that through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever. Observe, [1.] There is no good thing wrought in us but it is the work of God; he works in us, before we are fit for any good work. [2.] No good thing is wrought in us by God, but through Jesus Christ, for his sake and by his Spirit. And therefore, [3.] Eternal glory is due to him, who is the cause of all the good principles wrought in us and all the good works done by us. To this every one should say, Amen.

John MacArthur is equally impressed with the benediction, inspired by the Holy Spirit:

“Now the God of peace.” I love that title, don’t you? “The God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant” – now watch – “make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. So let it be.”

You want to hear something exciting? He gives you the ethics, He gives you the example, and then He gives you the energy. You say, “What’s the energy?” It’s the power of God. Look what it says, “Now the God of peace” – now jump to verse 21 – “make you perfect, working in you, that which is well pleasing in His sight.” You want to know something? Your Christian growth has nothing to do with your own power, it’s God working in you, right? Boy, what an exciting thing

So he’s simply saying the powerful God, He’s the one who can make you perfect. You can’t function on your own energy. You can’t just whip out your flesh and decide that you’re going to be spiritual. Doesn’t work like that.

Therefore, we must give Jesus and God the Father all thanks for all good things He has wrought through us:

When He does it, who gets the glory? Jesus Christ. And that’s the way it ought to be. He deserves it, doesn’t He? You remember this verse? I’m sure you do. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to do” – of what? – “His good pleasure.” It’s God. There’s your energy, beloved.

The new covenant’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? But it’s not just free grace and do what you want, there’s some ethics. Beyond the ethics, there’s a living, vital example. Beyond the example, there’s energy, and it’s the power of God in your life.

Now we come to the farewell — ‘Final Greetings’ — in which the author of Hebrews encourages (exhorts) his audience to heed what he has written to them (verse 22).

John MacArthur surmises that the Hebrews would reread the letter. Indeed, new revelations pop out every time I have read it (six times now):

Then he closes with personal notes. “I beseech you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation” – he says I know it’s been hard and heavy, but hang in there – “for I have written a letter unto you in few words.” You say, “Few words? Does he know how long we’ve been in this?” You want to hear something startling? You can read the whole book in less than an hour. It’s been brief, powerful, heavy. He says bear with it. He figures they’re going to read it again.

The author explains more about Timothy, referred to obliquely in verse 18 (last week):

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

Timothy has just been released from prison and the author hopes that the two of them can visit the Hebrews soon (verse 23).

Matthew Henry explains the joy everyone must have felt:

He gives the Hebrews an account of Timothy’s liberty and his hopes of seeing them with him in a little time, Hebrews 13:23. It seems, Timothy had been a prisoner, doubtless for the gospel, but now he was set at liberty. The imprisonment of faithful ministers is an honour to them, and their enlargement is matter of joy to the people. He was pleased with the hopes of not only seeing Timothy, but seeing the Hebrews with him.

The author closes by requesting the Hebrews greet their leaders and their fellow congregants — ‘saints’. He tells them that the Italians also send greetings (verse 24). He ends by praying that God’s grace be upon all of the Hebrews (verse 25).

MacArthur says of the author and the Italians:

He must have been hanging around a group of Italian Christians from Rome at this time.

That is serendipitous, because I will begin writing about Paul’s letters to the Romans next weekend.

Hebrews is a superb book of the Bible, because it answers so many questions about Christianity all in one place, proceeding from the Old Testament to the New Covenant we have in Christ.

This and my prior posts on Hebrews are available on my Essential Bible Verses page, located just above James 1:1-16.

Next time — Romans 1:8-15

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 13:17-19

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

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The verses in last week’s post were a final warning against falling into apostasy by following teaching that goes against Scripture and the Good News.

The first verse in today’s selection is a rather substantial one relating to the clergy or, as they were called at the time, overseers (verse 17).

The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, counsels his Jewish converts to obey their overseers and submit to them spiritually, because being an overseer is all-consuming work as, at the end of it, he has to give an account to the Lord. Therefore, we should respect their position, the onerous responsibility of that position and allow them to get on with their work without putting obstacles in their way. If a good clergyman leaves as a result of petty obstacles, ultimately, the congregation loses.

Matthew Henry explains the issue impartially — and well (emphases mine):

It is not an implicit obedience, or absolute submission, that is here required, but only so far as is agreeable to the mind and will of God revealed in his word; and yet it is truly obedience and submission, and that not only to God, but to the authority of the ministerial office, which is of God as certainly, in all things belonging to that office, as the authority of parents or of civil magistrates in the things within their sphere. Christians must submit to be instructed by their ministers, and not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great, to learn from them; and, when they find that ministerial instructions are agreeable to the written word, they must obey them.

It is sometimes difficult in our era to submit, especially to clergy who are quasi-agnostics (I have known a few). To them, I have kept my distance beyond civil pleasantries of a greeting and a kind word on Sundays.

As far as clergy are concerned, Henry — who was an Anglican clergyman himself — says that they are not to lord their position over the congregation:

They have the rule over the people; their office, though not magisterial, yet is truly authoritative. They have no authority to lord it over the people, but to lead them in the ways of God, by informing and instructing them, explaining the word of God to them, and applying it to their several cases.

Henry explains the heavy responsibility of a clergyman:

They watch for the souls of the people, not to ensnare them, but to save them; to gain them, not to themselves, but to Christ; to build them up in knowledge, faith, and holiness. They are to watch against every thing that may be hurtful to the souls of men, and to give them warning of dangerous errors, of the devices of Satan, of approaching judgments; they are to watch for all opportunities of helping the souls of men forward in the way to heaven.

After they have exercised their solemn duties on Earth, they will have to give an account to the Lord:

[3.] They must give an account how they have discharged their duty, and what has become of the souls committed to their trust, whether any have been lost through their neglect, and whether any of them have been brought in and built up under their ministry. [4.] They would be glad to give a good account of themselves and their hearers. If they can then give in an account of their own fidelity and success, it will be a joyful day to them; those souls that have been converted and confirmed under their ministry will be their joy, and their crown, in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, we should think of our clergy as we would a shepherd busy with his flock or, as John MacArthur says, a triage nurse:

I’ll tell you something, that’s a joy. The sweetest joy that comes into the life of a pastor who’s committed to the things of God is when he sees somebody walking in truth and bearing fruit. Believe me, that’s sweet. And the tragedy of all tragedies in the life of the man of God is when he sees those in whom he invests his life who do not bear fruit, who do not walk in the truth, who stray away. That grieves – worse than anything else. We’re like nurses, you know, with critical care patients. We care for your souls …

It’s a serious thing to be a critical care nurse in the church. It’s a serious thing to be a wakeful shepherd of a flock that has sheep that are forever going astray. And we have to labor as those – and I say this even with a sense of reluctance in my own heart to – to even admit that this is true, that I must give an account to God for the way that I minister to the care of the souls that He entrusts to me. And as I’ve said before, that’s why I’m not real anxious to have more people. I’m not too sure I’m doing the right job with the ones I’ve got.

What humility. He preached this in 1973, and, since then, his team’s ministry has gone international. That said, I bet he still has the same concerns — and rightly so.

MacArthur points out that St Paul had his share of faithful and rebellious congregations. The faithful ones made him joyful and the rebellious ones grieved him:

I think sometimes the saddest group of people, the most grieved group of men, are very often ministers, pastors. And I think sometimes the reason is because of the fact that they are dealing with a stubborn and rebellious people who, because they will not submit, rob them of the joy of their ministry.

The idea of the word “grief” here is groaning, over a thankless task, and there are many men whose ministry is a very thankless thing. And he says you ought to submit, just for the joy of the one who labors with you. You know, the Apostle Paul knew about that joy, apparently especially the Philippians were a submissive bunch. He didn’t express a whole lot of joy over the Corinthians. In fact, they were a pain in the neck as well as the heart. But in Philippians 1:4, he says, “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” He said to the Philippians, “You make me happy.” And the reason was because they were submissive.

The author of Hebrews then issued a personal message, requesting the converts’ prayers for him and Timothy (verse 18). (I’ll have more on Timothy next week.) The author is sure both have clear consciences as they attempt to act honourably in all their undertakings.

Henry says this request came because the Jews hated Paul, wrongly so, but the author and Timothy were taking great pains to not offend anyone unnecessarily:

Many of the Jews had a bad opinion of Paul, because he, being a Hebrew of the Hebrews, had cast off the Levitical law and preached up Christ: now he here modestly asserts his own integrity: We trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. We trust! he might have said, We know; but he chose to speak in a humble style, to teach us all not to be too confident of ourselves, but to maintain a godly jealousy over our own hearts.

The author asked for their prayers so that he might be with them again that much sooner (verse 19). MacArthur explains:

And so he says, pray for me, I deserve it. Secondly he says, pray for me, I need it. I need it. Verse 19, “I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.” I want to get there. You say that guy actually believed that prayer works? Does he believe that if he was going 30 miles an hour and they started praying, he’d go 90 miles an hour to get there? He believed that. Doesn’t sound too much like fatalism to me. Not at all. He knew God heard and answered prayer. There’s no blind fatalism.

Sadly, next week’s verses conclude the Book of Hebrews. However, I will follow up with posts on the first eight verses of Hebrews 13, which explain how to live the Christian life. Fortunately, those verses are in the Lectionary.

Next time — Hebrews 13:20-25

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.

Hebrews 13:9-14

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent[a] have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

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Sadly, Hebrews 13 is the last chapter in one of the best books of the Bible.

I hope to discuss the first eight verses of this magnificent chapter in separate posts. Those are read in Year C on one of the Sundays in the Pentecost season. They describe exactly how to live as a Christian.

As today’s post begins with verse 9, here is verse 8 — one of my favourites (emphases mine below):

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Therefore, we are not to be led away by false teachings, those that contradict the Gospel story, because Christ fulfilled the law, thereby making food restriction and other rituals obsolete, which were of no salvific benefit to those who observed them. With Christ, we have divine grace for our spiritual strength (verse 9).

That should mean something to us as Christians, to be explained below.

With regard to Jewish audience whom the author of Hebrews addressed, it was a warning against falling back into legalism, which would lead to apostasy.

John MacArthur explains the Jewish legalism of that era, which went far beyond what God commanded in the Old Testament through Mosaic law:

laws to Israel were very, very important and their conduct was based on these principles and was for the purpose of drawing men’s attention ultimately to God.

Now, it’s interesting, too, that they became so absorbed in legalism that they went way, way further than God ever intended. God gave them enough laws to maintain things and they just got real law-happy and went bananas, to put it in the vernacular, and just started inventing laws hand over fist. And they came up with a whole series of laws than they passed on orally. In other words, they would just speak them from generation to generation, and this series of oral laws was known as the Mishnah. And you’re perhaps familiar with that if you know anything about Jewish history.

The word shānāh means to teach or to repeat orally. So, this was orally transmitted, called the Mishnah. Finally, they felt they ought to write it all down and they wrote it all down and they called it the Talmud. And the Jewish Talmud is the codification of all the Jewish laws added to Scripture. And I mean it is massive. It is a monstrous thing. The word Talmud simply means teaching.

There are six parts to the Jewish Talmud, some of you may have seen one. But there are six parts to it. There is a section on agriculture, all the laws regarding what you can do and what you can’t do in agriculture. There is a section on feasts. There is a section on women. There’s a section on civil and ceremonial law, legal matters. There’s a section on sacrifices, a section on unclean things and their purification. Now, all of those sections are loaded with law after law after law for the conduct of the Jew.

During the time of Jesus Christ, if you study the New Testament, you find that the Jews were meticulously concerned with obeying laws, weren’t they? That they got literally in knots when they saw Jesus’ disciples not doing the things that were prescribed by the law. Or when Jesus did something that was not allowed in the law, they had a terrible time handling that issue. Jesus said, “Your only problem is you strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” What He meant was you’re all worried about the minutiae of the law and you’re blasting to pieces all of the principles that God really wanted to communicate through the law. You’ve kept the letter of the law and lost the message of it.

But nevertheless, by the time you come to the group of Jews that’s being written to in the book of Hebrews, they are legalists, believe me. They are legalists in the sense that no other nation in the history of the world has been legalists. They live by the law, they function by the law, they know nothing about liberty, only about being attached to a system. They were not free spirits. They were not do-your-own-thingers. They were not libertines. They were staunch, absolute legalists – the only life they knew.

The Jews who had converted to Christianity suffered at the hands of their Jewish families and friends. Some were disowned. Some had been shunned. The joyful confidence they had when they converted had disappeared. They were wondering if they should return to Judaism for a quiet life.

The whole book of Hebrews is about getting them back on track to the supreme sacrifice of Christ, which was all-sufficient for the forgiveness of their sins and truly promised eternal life.

There was also a group of Jews who had been listening to the Good News regularly but had not converted. Parts of the Book of Hebrews are addressed to them. The author wanted everyone to understand — in ways that made sense to a Jew — that Jesus Christ lives and reigns forever more. Only He offers the better — the New — Covenant.

That was the Jewish perspective of the day.

Now let’s turn to what verse 9 is saying to Christians. I firmly believe that if every Christian studied Hebrews, s/he would be lifted up and revitalised in the profession of faith.

The reason why is that so many of us are babes — little children — in the faith, regardless of how long we have been attending church. For the past 50 years or so, very little doctrine has been taught from the pulpit on Sundays or even in classes for First Communion (Catholic) or Confirmation (Protestants). Parents also do rather little, generally speaking. How much Christian doctrine do we actually know? It has been woefully watered down through the decades.

MacArthur explains the danger of the lack of doctrine:

Satan operates in the area of religion. He is an angel of light. He masks himself in religion. He is a false prophet. And so, you see, it is not until you grow up in the Word to the stature of a young man that you literally overcome him.

You know who’s vulnerable to false doctrine? Babes, right? He says, “Young men, the Word abides in you, and you overcome him.” In other words, if I have grown to the level of a young man spiritually, false doctrine is not my problem. The Bible says that when you’re saved, you overcome the world. When you get to be a young man, you overcome the devil. There’s one thing you never overcome, what’s left? The flesh. We wait for the glorification of our bodies to overcome the flesh. But when you go to a certain point in your maturing in the Word of God, false doctrine is no longer a problem. But as long as you’re a baby, it is.

Now, with that in mind, reading again from our passage in Hebrews, let’s see what he is saying, “Be not carried away” – or about – “with various and strange doctrines for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace, not with foods, which have not profited them that have been occupied with them.” What’s he been saying? Don’t be babies. Don’t get dragged off into false doctrine. Now, if you’re going to avoid that, what do you have to do? Be nourished up in what? Sound doctrine. And again you come back to the same principle that we have repeated so many times, that the Word of God is the key.

With regard to food, MacArthur rightly says:

Now, you’ll notice that he says here, you know, the Christian life doesn’t revolve around ceremonial law, not meats or foods, and the Jews were so used to food laws and food rituals that it was a tough thing for them to make that kind of a break. There’s an interesting verse, it’s 1 Corinthians 8:8, this is what it says: “But food will not commend us to God.” Pretty simple. God doesn’t care what you eat. Food will not commend us to God. “We are neither the worse if we do not eat nor the better if we do eat.” In other words, God does not care about your religious diet. That’s exactly what he says in verse 9. Let your heart be established with grace, not with ceremony.

The ever-growing trend towards vegetarianism, even partially, and veganism will not bring us favour with God, even notionally for Planet Earth’s sake. This is becoming somewhat of a religion of its own, yet, who among us can out-guess God as to the bounty, not only of food but also natural resources, that He has given us? No one can rightly presume we are in peril, yet, many Christians — including clergy — believe we are in mortal danger of the Earth coming to an end through man’s hands.

We should be far more worried about the state of our souls, but that has long disappeared from our discourse.

Matthew Henry discusses the meaning of verse 9. This can be applied to every present day teaching that diverges from the Bible:

a. They were divers and various (Hebrews 13:9), different from what they had received from their former faithful teachers, and inconsistent with themselves.

b. They were strange doctrines: such as the gospel church was unacquainted with foreign to the gospel.

c. They were of an unsettling, distracting nature, like the wind by which the ship is tossed, and in danger of being driven from its anchor, carried away, and split upon the rocks. They were quite contrary to that grace of God which fixes and establishes the heart, which is an excellent thing. These strange doctrines keep the heart always fluctuating and unsettled.

d. They were mean and low as to their subject. They were about external, little, perishing things, such as meats and drinks, &c.

e. They were unprofitable. Those who were most taken with them, and employed about them, got no real good by them to their own souls. They did not make them more holy, nor more humble, nor more thankful, nor more heavenly.

Verse 10 pertains to the exclusive right that Christians have towards receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. In other words, those who do not believe in Christ should not be partaking of it. Henry puts this verse in context by explaining that, in the early days, Christians did not have altars as the Jews did in the temple. The Jews criticised them for it:

f. They would exclude those who embraced them from the privileges of the Christian altar (Hebrews 13:10): We have an altar. This is an argument of the great weight, and therefore the apostle insists the longer upon it. Observe,

(a.) The Christian church has its altar. It was objected against the primitive Christians that their assemblies were destitute of an altar; but this was not true. We have an altar, not a material altar, but a personal one, and that is Christ; he is both our altar, and our sacrifice; he sanctifies the gift. The altars under the law were types of Christ; the brazen altar of the sacrifice, the golden altar of his intercession.

(b.) This altar furnishes out a feast for true believers, a feast upon the sacrifice, a feast of fat things, spiritual strength and growth, and holy delight and pleasure. The Lord’s table is not our altar, but it is furnished with provision from the altar. Christ our passover is sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7), and it follows, therefore let us keep the feast. The Lord’s supper is the feast of the gospel passover.

(c.) Those who adhere to the tabernacle or the Levitical dispensation, or return to it again, exclude themselves from the privileges of this altar, from the benefits purchased by Christ. If they serve the tabernacle, they are resolved to subject themselves to antiquated rites and ceremonies, to renounce their right to the Christian altar; and this part of the argument he first proves and then improves.

The reason a professing Jew cannot — and would not — take Communion is that no part of the Jewish sacrifice was to be consumed and the bodies of the animals were taken outside the camp to be burnt (verses 10, 11):

[a.] He proves that this servile adherence to the Jewish state is a bar to the privileges of the gospel altar; and he argues thus:–Under the Jewish law, no part of the sin-offering was to be eaten, but all must be burnt without the camp while they dwelt in tabernacles, and without the gates when they dwelt in cities: now, if they will still be subject to that law, they cannot eat at the gospel-altar; for that which is eaten there is furnished from Christ, who is the great sin-offering. Not that it is the very sin-offering itself, as the papists affirm; for then it was not to be eaten, but burnt; but the gospel feast is the fruit and procurement of the sacrifice, which those have no right to who do not acknowledge the sacrifice itself.

That would have been an important message to the Hebrews who had converted. The author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is saying in so many words: ‘Okay, then, if you wish to revert to the teachings of Mosaic law and sacrifices, then you can no longer receive the body and blood of Christ, because you no longer believe in His supreme sacrifice. Give up the spiritual nourishment and grace that partaking of the fruits of His sacrifice brings.’

However — and interestingly, because I had not considered this before — the author of Hebrews says that just as sacrificial animals were burnt outside the camp or the city gates, so, too, did Jesus die on the Cross outside the gates of Jerusalem in order to sanctify us through His blood (verse 12).

Henry says:

… it might appear that Christ was really the antitype of the sin-offering, and, as such, might sanctify or cleanse his people with his own blood, he conformed himself to the type, in suffering without the gate. This was a striking specimen of his humiliation, as if he had not been fit either for sacred or civil society! And this shows how sin, which was the meritorious cause of the sufferings of Christ, is a forfeiture of all sacred and civil rights, and the sinner a common plague and nuisance to all society, if God should be strict to mark iniquity. Having thus shown that adherence to the Levitical law would, even according to its own rules, debar men from the Christian altar, he proceeds …

This should amply demonstrate how much God hates sin. John MacArthur makes much of this in his various sermons, but, unless we are directed to the Bible — and the Book of Hebrews has the best passages on it — we do not understand the necessity of God’s mandating a blood sacrifice for sin.

Jesus made the one, sufficient oblation for our sins through His most precious blood.

Anyone who does not believe that, as the author of Hebrews says, does not deserve to partake of the grace-filled fruits of His sacrifice in Holy Communion.

The author goes on to say that, just as Jesus went outside the gate of the city to die, we must also exit the gate of the world and follow Him (verse 13). We must turn our love away from what those of the world hold on to and follow the path to eternal life.

That means rejecting sin, carnal comforts and materialism, which will put us out of the perimeters of the camp and the boundaries of the city.

Henry explains that, because we no longer belong to the camp or the city, the world will hate us for it:

First, Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp; go forth from the ceremonial law, from sin, from the world, from ourselves, our very bodies, when he calls us. Secondly, Let us be willing to bear his reproach, be willing to be accounted the offscouring of all things, not worthy to live, not worthy to die a common death.

However, we do not care, because, this world is only a temporary place for us as believers, as ‘we seek the city that is to come’ (verse 14): the heavenly realm.

Henry says of verse 14:

This was his reproach, and we must submit to it; and we have the more reason because, whether we go forth from this world to Christ or no, we must necessarily go forth in a little time by death; for here we have no continuing city. Sin, sinners, death, will not suffer us to continue long here; and therefore we should go forth now by faith, and seek in Christ the rest and settlement which this world cannot afford us, Hebrews 13:14.

In conclusion, we will all depart this mortal coil, so we would do well, right now, to follow Christ.

The author then tells us what our sacrifices are to be as Christians. Those of us who went to Catholic school remember the nuns discussing ‘making sacrifices’, especially during Lent and Advent. They were not wrong. The following verses from Hebrews 13 are included in the readings for a Sunday in the season of Pentecost in Year C:

15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

So, we have a mandate as Christians to offer sacrifices of love: to God and to those around us.

Jesus answered the Pharisee as to which was the greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40):

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Fortunately, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes those verses at the beginning of the service of Holy Communion. Regular attendance puts them in the memory bank to be remembered the rest of the week.

Next time — Hebrews 13:17-19

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.

Hebrews 12:8-11

If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

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It occurred to me early last week that I had forgotten to write up these additional verses about discipline from God.

These follow my post on Hebrews 12:4-7.

I realise these verses are hard for some of us to handle. Some reading them will have come from abusive homes. They have my deep empathy and commiserations.

However, while nations are legislating against corporal punishment in the home to prevent abuse, for centuries — in fact, until just recently — it was a mainstay of family and educational life. Many years ago, I read a book about English social history which said that, until the late Middle Ages, students at Oxford and Cambridge were routinely beaten for what we would consider minor infractions. At the time, both were seminaries, so all the students were young men. It is said that St Augustine used to flog his students, also. They, too, were young men, not little boys.

One thing that is becoming clear in 21st century society is that there are so many unhappy young people in this world. Their parents have never been kinder to them physically, yet, they are so miserable and depressed. Are we to draw the conclusion that some sort of punishment would have, paradoxically, made them less depressed? I do not know, but the ones we see in the media at demonstrations and violent protests are shouty navel-gazers of the first water, as if no one ever had ever taken the time to control their childhood impulses.

That said, the subject of corporal punishment aside, the main point of the author of Hebrews discourse is to point out that God corrects our ways through privation to save us from sin — and eternal death.

The author begins by saying that if we do not experience discipline in our lives, that means our fathers never loved us; we might as well have been illegitimate children (verse 8).

Matthew Henry makes the following salient points about earthly fathers and our heavenly Father (emphases mine):

Observe, (1.) The best of God’s children need chastisement. They have their faults and follies, which need to be corrected. (2.) Though God may let others alone in their sins, he will correct sin in his own children; they are of his family, and shall not escape his rebukes when they want them. (3.) In this he acts as becomes a father, and treats them like children; no wise and good father will wink at faults in his own children as he would in others; his relation and his affections oblige him to take more notice of the faults of his own children than those of others. (4.) To be suffered to go on in sin without a rebuke is a sad sign of alienation from God; such are bastards, not sons. They may call him Father, because born in the pale of the church; but they are the spurious offspring of another father, not of God, Hebrews 12:7,8.

The author goes on to say that we respected our fathers who chastised us, therefore, we should be that much more reverential to God who wants us to be with Him forever (verses 9, 10).

Many of us resented correction when we received it, but we grew to be grateful for it as we matured.

Henry explains:

[3.] The fathers of our flesh corrected us for a few days, in our state of childhood, when minors; and, though we were in that weak and peevish state, we owed them reverence, and when we came to maturity we loved and honoured them the more for it. Our whole life here is a state of childhood, minority, and imperfection, and therefore we must submit to the discipline of such a state; when we come to a state of perfection we shall be fully reconciled to all the measures of God’s discipline over us now. [4.] God’s correction is no condemnation. His children may at first fear lest affliction should come upon that dreadful errand, and we cry, Do not condemn me, but show me wherefore thou contendest with me, Job 10:2. But this is so far from being the design of God to his own people that he therefore chastens them now that they may not be condemned with the world, 1 Corinthians 11:32. He does it to prevent the death and destruction of their souls, that they may live to God, and be like God, and for ever with him.

At the time we are receiving correction, it is unpleasant and humiliating. Yet, looking back on it, it taught us the difference between right and wrong and to choose the correct path of behaviour — ‘the peaceful fruit of righteousness’ (verse 11) — that benefits us, our family and others with whom we come in contact. Most of all, through righteousness, we find favour with God.

John MacArthur discusses the joys one receives after privation of certain things has ended — a seeming paradox, to be sure, but one we know well:

I think implied in there is the fullness of life. Really live. You don’t know what living’s all about until you’ve been through some things. You don’t know what victory is until you’ve fought a battle. You don’t know what deliverance has been – is until you’ve been in prison. You don’t know what healing is till you’ve been sick. You don’t know what riches are until you’ve been poor. Right?

Life only is life when you’ve been wretched and miserable.

Second thing, second product is holiness, verse 10, “For they verily, for a few days, chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.”

God wants us to conform to His image. Never feel envious of people who get away with everything bad in life and seem to have it all. They will get their reckoning in the end from the Almighty:

You know, there’s only one kind of holiness – what kind? – His holiness. That’s the only kind. And He wants us to partake of His holiness. That’s just absolutely a fantastic thought, to partake of His holiness.

Ephesians 3:19, “To be filled with all the fulness of God.” What a thought. And the only way that I can ever partake of His holiness and be righteous before Him in a practical sense is when I conform to His image. And to conform to His image, I must take His discipline. You see? Because I’m unruly, and I have sin in me, and I must respond to His discipline.

I want to be a partaker of His holiness. And it’ll only happen as I am disciplined. How are you going to take discipline? You’re going look at it, first of all, and watch those two perils. Don’t treat it lightly, despising it and not seeing the full end of what it is. Look over the wall, over the dark cloud. And you’re not going to faint, get despondent, despairing.

The second thing is you’re going to recognize what it proves. It proves, first of all, His love, and secondly what? Our sonship. And instead of doubting that He’s near, you’re going to thank Him for being near and being a loving Father and teaching what He’s teaching you.

Thirdly, you’re going to recognize the product that He’s trying to get at. Number one, life lived, and lived to its fullest. Number two, He wants you to conform to His holiness practically. Positionally you’re holy; practically, He wants you to be what you are in position …

Welcome, sweet discipline. Discipline designed for my joy. Discipline designed to make me what God wants me to be.

Again, as I’ve written and as MacArthur has said, it’s a good idea to regard this as God’s training us for endurance on our Christian journey. He is our divine spiritual coach.

The trials He brings us toughen us up spiritually to resist temptation and sin:

it’s just like spiritual weightlifting. Consider – watch this – consider your troubles not a burden but a weight. And every trouble that comes is spiritual exercise. And when you get exercised by it, you’re building spiritual muscles. The stronger you are, the more you’re going to appreciate what God is doing.

Be glad and be thankful for God’s spiritual discipline. Without it, we could not run the race towards eternal life.

In closing, we suffer nothing compared to what God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, suffered on the Cross for us. God sent Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus knew it would be the most horrifying torture and death ever. Yet, He obeyed His father in all things.

When we get despondent and navel gaze, let us remember Christ’s example: pray and obey the Father.

I will post again on Hebrews tomorrow — Hebrews 13:9-14 — as stated last week.

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.

Hebrews 12:12-17

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

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Last week’s post discussed the previous set of verses, difficult to digest in some ways, about discipline from God. I suggested that we liken God to a divine coach, strengthening us through our trials the way an athletics coach would build up his charges’ strength through rigorous exercise.

The author of Hebrews is encouraging the new converts from Judaism to be strong and persevere with the faith, no matter what trials befall them. They lost their families and friends because of their Christian faith. Not surprisingly, they were faltering.

There were also Hebrews who were attending Christian worship services but had not fully committed themselves as followers of Christ. The author of Hebrews wanted them to make that commitment.

John MacArthur explains that the author’s intent was to save both groups from apostasy (emphases mine):

Sprinkled among these believing Jews were some who hadn’t even yet been saved. And they had identified superficially as professing Christians with this Jewish community of believers, and they were there in name only, not in truth. And they were in danger of turning around and going back to apostate, to be apostates, to apostatize if you want the verb. They were in danger of saying, “Oh, this is ridiculous. I’ve seen enough of this; I’m going back to Judaism.” And had they done that, they would have been locked in unbelief forever because they would have rejected against full information. And that’s what apostasy is.

These verses are addressed to faltering believers. Therefore, the author exhorts them to get themselves in position for the endurance that faith demands (verse 12), an analogy used elsewhere in the Bible, including the Old Testament:

What he’s really saying in athletic metaphor is get your second wind. Sure, the outward man is perishing, but what did Isaiah say? “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their” – what? – “their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” That’s a promise of God.

These converts, like any other Christian throughout history, needed to be stronger spiritually. Poor spiritual positioning could cause them to become spiritually lame, when they should be healed (verse 13).

MacArthur explains the running analogy based on his own personal experience at school. The upper case ‘He’ below refers to the Holy Spirit, who inspired the author of Hebrews along with every other author of the Bible:

You know, if you’re an athlete, and you’re going to train for a track meet, you’re going to discipline yourself or you’re not going to be any good in the track meet. Can you imagine a guy coming out to run a mile who’s never worked out? You see, the discipline isn’t meant to slow him down; the discipline is meant to speed him up. It’s meant to make him faster in the race. And God brings things into our lives in order that He might speed us, not slow us down.

You know, in any kind of a race, you can always tell when a guy gets tired. I ran enough track to know this. And you can always tell two things automatically happen. I know this from my – I’m telling you, personal experience; this has happened to me many, many times. The first thing that happens to a good runner, when he gets tired, is his arms drop. One of the first things you learn in running is the motion of your arms is very important and very strategic to the movement of your body. And the rhythm is all – all needs to be in congruity. It has to be going together. And you can always tell when a guy gets tired, because his arms start dropping, and that breaks his rhythm. You see, your arms are powerful enough to pull you into your stride. And any good runner works very diligently on the motion of his arms. And as he gets tired, his arms begin to drop, and then he begins to lose the drive.

The second thing that always happens to a runner, when he gets tired, is his knees begin to wobble. Now any of you guys that have run track, you know this; you know what it’s like to say, “Go, leg, go,” and it doesn’t. Right? And your knees are just going like this. Well, I can – I can remember so many times running a 440 and coming around to the 380 mark, with 60 yards to go, and saying, “Go, knees, go,” and they just – you just have to go – “Mmm” – like this, and just put one out in front of the other, almost forcing each leg individually.

And so, this is a very graphic illustration that He has here. The arms begin to droop, the rhythm is lost, and pretty soon he’s fighting against the growing numbness in his legs. And you know what happens then? If he begins to concentrate on the numbness in his legs, he’s finished. There’s only one thing that a runner can do at that point, and that is to look at the goal line. To look at that goal line and tell himself, “I am going to make that goal.” It’s the only thing he can do.

So, it is with a Christian. There may come times in the Christian life when your arms begin to droop, and your knees begin to wobble, and you don’t know if you can get one in front of the other one again, where you don’t look at your wobbly knees, and you don’t start looking at your drooping arms, and you just look at that finish line. And better than any guy who ever ran a race, you have the about guaranteed condition that you’re going to be the victor. And with that in the back of your mind, you fire on.

The author says that the converts must not only strive to make peace with everyone but also be holy, because without holiness, none of us will ever see God in the life to come (verse 14). Both of those are very difficult to do, especially when we spend so much time in the world of work and leisure outside the home. Temptations are everywhere.

Matthew Henry says:

Observe, First, It is the duty of Christians, even when in a suffering state, to follow peace with all men, yea, even with those who may be instrumental in their sufferings. This is a hard lesson, and a high attainment, but it is what Christ has called his people to. Sufferings are apt to sour the spirit and sharpen the passions; but the children of God must follow peace with all men. Secondly, Peace and holiness are connected together; there can be no true peace without holiness. There may be prudence and discreet forbearance, and a show of friendship and good-will to all; but this true Christian peaceableness is never found separate from holiness. We must not, under pretence of living peaceably with all men, leave the ways of holiness, but cultivate peace in a way of holiness. Thirdly, Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The vision of God our Saviour in heaven is reserved as the reward of holiness, and the stress of our salvation is laid upon our holiness, though a placid peaceable disposition contributes much to our meetness for heaven.

This is why God gives us trials and tribulations, so that we endure them and come out as stronger Christians.

The author continues, exhorting the converts to make sure that everyone can obtain God’s grace. He also tells them not become bitter people, because bitterness takes root all too easily (verse 15). This verse concerns our personal behaviour and the example we must set as Christians.

MacArthur says that everyone who encounters us is affected in some way by the example we set. MacArthur tells us:

Christians, so often this is true – isn’t it? – when you say, “When I sin, it’s only my business.” No, it’s not. When you fall, somebody’s watching.

And our example to others will give either a good or a bad impression to them of Christianity.

MacArthur relates a true story about a father who was fond of strong drink and his young son:

I always think of the story my dad used to tell about the father who went out to get drunk again, and he was walking through the snow to the bar. And he hadn’t gone very far from his house, and he thought something was following him. And he turned around, and here was his little boy, six years old, stretching as far as he could to make sure he put his feet in his dad’s footsteps in the snow. And his dad said, “Where are you going?”

He says, “I’m just following your footsteps, Dad.” And as the story goes, his dad went home and broke down and cried, and some – through some other instrumentation, God sent somebody, and that man became saved and later told that story.

Therefore:

Well, you know, somebody’s walking along, just putting their feet right in the spot you’ve made. And if you’re wobbling around, knocking into everybody’s lane you’re going to mess up a lot of Christians. Make our paths straight, stay in your own lane. Run a smooth, clear, straight path. The Greek word here is a smooth, straight path. Now there’s a – this again is an Old Testament concept. I’m thinking it’s Proverbs 4 – I might be wrong – 25, yes, “Let thine eyes look right on” – that’s good; you didn’t know that was in the Bible, did you? – “Let thing eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look” – straight ahead – “straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” Make a straight path and go. Don’t wander from side to side, looking over the edge, seeing what the world’s doing. You’re going to mess up some other Christians.

Now, I like the term that is used here for paths, trochias in the Greek, and it means the track left by wheels. You know, the cart would go down in a straight line; it would leave tracks. And the point is that you’re not only running, you’re leaving a track. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? You’re leaving a pattern for somebody to follow. And there’s – somewhere back there are Christians who are either going like this after your life or like this. See? Knowing over other Christians while they follow you.

And so, continuance, beloved, isn’t just for your sake; it’s for whoever’s looking at you. It’s so that you can provoke each other to love and good works that you’re to run a straight path. It affects other people.

The author tells his audience not to engage in sexual immorality or to be unholy, like Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew (verses 16, 17). Esau could find no peace after that.

Henry explains the seriousness of Esau’s sin. God passed judgement on him and gave him no inner peace for his foolishness. Henry also picks up on this as a way for the author of Hebrews to warn about apostasy:

The apostle backs the caution with an awful example, and that is, that of Esau, who though born within the pale of the church, and having the birthright as the eldest son, and so entitled to the privilege of being prophet, priest, and king, in his family, was so profane as to despise these sacred privileges, and to sell his birthright for a morsel of meat. Where observe, First, Esau’s sin. He profanely despised and sold the birthright, and all the advantages attending it. So do apostates, who to avoid persecution, and enjoy sensual ease and pleasure, though they bore the character of the children of God, and had a visible right to the blessing and inheritance, give up all pretensions thereto. Secondly, Esau’s punishment, which was suitable to his sin. His conscience was convinced of his sin and folly, when it was too late: He would afterwards have inherited the blessing, &c. His punishment lay in two things: 1. He was condemned by his own conscience; he now saw that the blessing he had made so light of was worth the having, worth the seeking, though with much carefulness and many tears. 2. He was rejected of God: He found no place of repentance in God or in his father; the blessing was given to another, even to him to whom he sold it for a mess of pottage. Esau, in his great wickedness, had made the bargain, and God in his righteous judgment, ratified and confirmed it, and would not suffer Isaac to reverse it.

The Jewish converts were in danger of throwing away the birthright they had been given when they became Christians. The worst thing that a Christian can do is to spit in the face of that birthright, denying Jesus Christ and God the Father only to embrace the world and sin.

Henry explains:

We may hence learn, [1.] That apostasy from Christ is the fruit of preferring the gratification of the flesh to the blessing of God and the heavenly inheritance. [2.] Sinners will not always have such mean thoughts of the divine blessing and inheritance as now they have. The time is coming when they will think no pains too great, no cares no tears too much, to obtain the lost blessing. [3.] When the day of grace is over (as sometimes it may be in this life), they will find no place for repentance: they cannot repent aright of their sin; and God will not repent of the sentence he has passed upon them for their sin. And therefore, as the design of all, Christians should never give up their title, and hope of their Father’s blessing and inheritance, and expose themselves to his irrevocable wrath and curse, by deserting their holy religion, to avoid suffering, which, though this may be persecution as far as wicked men are concerned in it, is only a rod of correction and chastisement in the hand of their heavenly Father, to bring them near to himself in conformity and communion. This is the force of the apostle’s arguing from the nature of the sufferings of the people of God even when they suffer for righteousness’ sake; and the reasoning is very strong.

This is the second half of Hebrews 12, designed to put a holy fear into the converts. This passage is in the Lectionary and read on one of the Sundays in the season after Pentecost:

A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly[a] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

People don’t believe that. It’s an analogy, they say. Or they say that it was true at the time it was written, but no longer.

No. If Scripture says that God is a consuming fire — and similar phrasing occurs throughout the Bible — then, we should take it on board as truth.

In closing, returning to verse 15, we need to watch out for others, too, lest they stumble. MacArthur explains the Holy Spirit’s intention in that verse:

Here’s a guy who comes to the church, sees Christianity, sticks around, sticks around sticks around — falls away into apostasy. Hebrews chapter 6, classic definition. Now He says, “Hey, people, take the oversight; don’t let that happen. Don’t let that guy go.”

You say, “Well, I don’t want to say anything. I-I-”

That’s the stupidest remark you could ever make. Ridiculous you don’t want to say anything.

“Don’t want to offend.”

Offend! Offend! Go offend! Wow, the cross itself is an offense, and let’s do a little offending. I mean if a guy’s going to go to hell just because we’re afraid to offend him, that’s the worst offense imaginable. And these people – you know, grace is available. He says, “They’re going to – grace is available, but they’re going to fall back from grace.” He says, “You take the oversight, and you watch and don’t let it happen to them.”

There is much to consider in these six verses. We have great responsibilities as Christians. This is why God is continuously training us to be better, holier people. He wants us to persevere in patience, with our eyes on the reward to come in Heaven.

Next time — Hebrews 13:9-14

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.

Hebrews 11:23-28

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

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Last week’s reading discussed the faith of more of the earliest men in the Old Testament: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The reading prior to that discussed the first heroes of faith in Genesis: Abel, Enoch and Noah.

John MacArthur emphasises the choices that each man made. They chose to follow God, difficult and lonely though it was (emphases mine below):

All men make a choice. All Christians live in the process of making choices. Abel chose God’s way, a more excellent sacrifice. His brother didn’t; his brother was cursed. Abel was blessed.

Enoch chose God’s way, to walk with God. The rest of the world didn’t. Noah chose God’s way, to obey God and do what God said. The rest of the world didn’t; they drowned. Abraham chose God’s way, to live a life of faith. The people in whose land he dwelt didn’t, and they were destroyed. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph chose God’s way, to believe God for what they couldn’t see, and in it they conquered death. The heathen refused to believe God, and death conquered them.

MacArthur says that the decisions we make determine not only our temporal life but also our eternal one:

Now, Christian maturity, people – and here’s one angle on a definition of it – Christian maturity is making right decisions. That’s what it is. You can always tell a mature Christian by the decisions that he makes. And you can always tell an immature Christian by the decision that he makes. He makes wrong ones.

I’ll put it another way. Holiness is making right decisions. Carnality is making wrong ones. All of life is decisions, and all of the Christian life is decisions. And really, your Christian life rises or falls in terms of maturity and holiness on the basis of the decisions that you make.

When Satan tempts, you either decide to say no or yes. When opportunity calls, and you have a time when you can communicate some – to somebody the truth of Jesus Christ, you either take it or you don’t. Everything is decision. The time comes for you, and you have a few spare moments you might spend reading the Bible, you make a decision. You either read the Bible or you don’t. You get up on Sunday morning, you have an opportunity to come to a seminar class, study the Bible, you make a decision. Either you get up or you don’t.

And invariably, sooner or later, it’s going to touch your whole Christian life the decisions that you make. In business you have a decision. You have an opportunity to make a lot of money or to do what’s right. And sometimes you have those kind of decisions, believe me; we all do. Even in the ministry we do – not usually related to making a lot of money, but situations that could be beneficial to us, or we do what’s right. And we either grab that opportunity for the glory of God, or we lose it.

The author of Hebrews is impressing upon his audience the faith of these men who never saw the fulfilment of God’s plan in Jesus Christ. Yet, they believed that God had a greater promise — the Messiah — for mankind, even if they were centuries away from it. Yet, they believed God was their Father and they were determined to believe that obeying Him was the right and wise thing to do. They believed that God would take care of them.

The Hebrews, on the other hand, were living in the years after Christ’s ascension, His return to Heaven. Some had converted to Christianity and experienced all manner of hardship because of it. They wanted to return to the comfort of Judaism for a quiet life. Other Hebrews knew the story of the Good News but were reluctant to commit themselves to Christ.

The author is telling them how blessed they are to have lived in the era after Christ fulfilled the law through His death and resurrection. He is trying to encourage them to gratefully accept — and believe — that Jesus’s time on Earth was the ultimate fulfilment of God’s plan for mankind.

The author of Hebrews moves on to the life of Moses, the iconic figure for the Hebrews. He begins by saying that Moses’s parents were not afraid of Pharaoh’s edict to kill every first born of the Israelites (verse 23), which was a form of genocide.

Matthew Henry points out that they, too, had faith in God:

They were not afraid of the king’s commandment, Exodus 1:22. That was a wicked and a cruel edict, that all the males of the Israelites should be destroyed in their infancy, and so the name of Israel must be destroyed out of the earth. But they did not so fear as presently to give up their child; they considered that, if none of the males were preserved, there would be an end and utter ruin of the church of God and the true religion, and that though in their present state of servitude and oppression one would praise the dead rather than the living, yet they believed that God would preserve his people, and that the time was coming when it would be worth while for an Israelite to live. Some must hazard their own lives to preserve their children, and they were resolved to do it; they knew the king’s commandment was evil in itself, contrary to the laws of God and nature, and therefore of no authority nor obligation. Faith is a great preservative against the sinful slavish fear of men, as it sets God before the soul, and shows the vanity of the creature and its subordination to the will and power of God.

Moses’s mother, as we all know, hid him for three months until she put him in a little rounded boat made of bulrushes — papyrus reeds — and sent him down the river (Exodus 2:2-3).

Pharoah’s daughter was barren, as Henry tells us. She was his only child. Moses, whom she adopted, was her only child:

Pharaoh’s daughter is said to have been his only child, and was herself childless; and having found Moses, and saved him as she did, she resolved to take him and bring him up as her son; and so he stood fair to be in time king of Egypt, and he might thereby have been serviceable to Israel. He owed his life to this princess

MacArthur describes Moses’s early life:

And so, Moses had grown up in the society of Egypt, the wealthiest, most advanced civilization in that part of the world. And to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter meant technically that you were the prince, and in a technical sense had the right some day to even rule in the land. Boy, you didn’t get any higher. The greatest ruler in the world was the pharaoh. And Moses was in line.

Yet, in his adulthood, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and preferred to endure the sufferings of his fellow Israelites (verse 24).

This was because Moses’s mother, Jochebed, was her son’s wetnurse and was able to raise him as her own son. Therefore, he learned about God and His love of Israel which included His promise of a Messiah for them:

Now, go to Exodus chapter 2, and let’s look at the story and just pick up a few points of interest. Exodus chapter 2 verse 5, “Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags” – reeds – “She sent her maid to fetch it.

“When she had opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the babe wept.” Par for the course. “And she had compassion on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’” Here she discovers little Moses.

Verse 7, “Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and’” – isn’t it interesting that the little baby’s sister has run along the river to make sure that little Moses was going to be okay? Miriam. So, when she – verse 7, “Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?’” She knew just the one.

“And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ And the maid went and called the child’s mother.” Jochebed. “And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, ‘Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.’ And the woman took the child and nursed him.” That’s quite a recovery process that God brought about, wasn’t it? Just fantastic.

Now, it says there – and this is the point that I want to pull out of here – “‘Take this child away and nurse it for me.’” Jochebed took the child and weaned the child. There’s a possibility that this was a three-year period, according to some. Some scholars feel that it was as many as 12 years that she kept Moses in her own home. And during that time, he would receive the full training of the Jewish home. He would be instilled and engrained with the Messianic hope. I kind of lean toward more than three years. Somewhere maybe between 3 and 12, long enough so that they could have taught him Messianic truth. Long enough so that he would have the great promise of Abraham that had been reiterated to Isaac, Jacob and Joseph reiterated to him so that he knew what God had planned for His people, because it’s apparent later on that he did know it. So, however long he stayed, however many years Jochebed was able to raise her own son, it was long enough to instill him with the great truths that were Israel’s promises from God that they not only would leave Egypt, but that God had promised them a great deliverer some day, and that he knew well the great Abrahamic covenant of a great nation, a great seed, and through them the world would be blessed, and the land would belong to them. And all of this undoubtedly was drilled into little Moses.

But after the training period was over, he rejoined the royal court. And when he rejoined the royal court, he was in the position as the prince of Egypt. He was in the position to receive everything that Egypt had to offer. You couldn’t get any higher than that unless you were the Pharaoh himself. The name given to him was Moshe. It means “because I drew him out of water.”

Moses had everything at his disposal, including an excellent education as well as rubbing shoulders with the great and the good.

MacArthur says that Moses’s education fit into God’s plan:

The formal education of Egypt, which included the reading and the writing of hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts, the copying of texts, the language of Canaan – undoubtedly he learned several languages. All of this was refining his God-given ability to be a leader and to write the Pentateuch, which he wrote the first five books of the Bible. All of this education went together to make him God’s man. Forty years in Egypt, God trained him and made him something. Then 40 years in the desert, He broke him back to nothing. Then for 40 years He used him.

Moses chose to be part of the persecution of the Israelites, rather than the easy life of ‘sin’ (verse 25).

MacArthur elaborates:

Now our text here tells us, in Hebrews 11, what he did with the honor of the palace. And in simple words, he chucked the whole thing. I love it. What it says is this, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years” – what’s the next word? – “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” Moses did not seek the world’s prestige. He sought that which was the will of God. He knew God had a better kingdom. He knew God had a better reward. Prestige and honor and fame is a powerful thing. Most people live all their lives dreaming about attaining it. You know that? Sure we do. We put ourselves in the position of famous people. Most people live trying to get up higher on the social ladder. Moses gave it all up.

That happened when Moses turned 40. The author of Hebrews said that Moses looked towards his eternal reward, not an earthly one (verse 26).

Henry analyses what ‘the reproach of Christ’ in that verse means:

See how Moses weighed matters: in one scale he put the worst of religion–the reproaches of Christ, in the other scale the best of the world–the treasures of Egypt; and in his judgment, directed by faith, the worst of religion weighed down the best of the world. The reproaches of the church of God are the reproaches of Christ, who is, and has ever been, the head of the church. Now here Moses conquered the riches of the world, as before he had conquered its honours and pleasures. God’s people are, and always have been, a reproached people. Christ accounts himself reproached in their reproaches; and, while he thus interests himself in their reproaches, they become riches, and greater riches than the treasures of the richest empire in the world; for Christ will reward them with a crown of glory that fades not away. Faith discerns this, and determines and acts accordingly.

Therefore, he left Egypt, unafraid of Pharaoh because faith in the unseen — God — drove that decision (verse 27).

MacArthur explains:

All through those 40 years, he’d never wavered, apparently, in his faith in God. For 40 years he had enjoyed the privileges, the prestige, the status, the honors of a prince in Egypt with all the royal rigmarole that went with it. But the time came to face the biggest decision of his life. And it’s very apparent that God came to him, and God spoke to him somehow. God indicated to him that he wanted him to go back to his people Israel and lead them out to the Promised Land. He had to make a choice whether to throw aside everything that he had in the palace and go live with slaves, or to forget the call of God and grab what he had.

In Acts chapter 7, again going back to Stephen’s sermon which deals so interestingly with the character of Moses, just pulling out a couple of things, it says in verse 23 of Acts 7, “And when he was full 40 years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian” – he killed him – “for he supposed his brethren would have understood” – watch – “how that God, by his hand would deliver them. But they understood not.”

You see, he knew that God had already called him to be the deliverer. And he thought, “If I go in there and show that to them, and I’ll smite this Egyptian, I’ll kill him, that’ll prove to them whose side I’m on. They’ll know that I’m to be their deliverer,” but they didn’t buy it. They didn’t buy it, but he knew what God wanted out of him.

When it came time for the great Exodus from Egypt, Moses and the faithful Israelites followed the command to daub their front doors with lamb’s blood so that their first-born children would be saved (verse 28). That was the first Passover. Henry reminds us that while the first-born among the Israelites were saved, their Egyptian counterparts were not:

The passover was one of the most solemn institutions of the Old Testament, and a very significant type of Christ. The occasion of its first observance was extraordinary: it was in the same night that God slew the first-born of the Egyptians; but, though the Israelites lived among them, the destroying angel passed over their houses, and spared them and theirs. Now, to entitle them to this distinguishing favour, and to mark them out for it, a lamb must be slain; the blood of it must be sprinkled with a bunch of hyssop upon the lintel of the door, and on the two side-posts; the flesh of the lamb must be roasted with fire; and it must be all of it eaten that very night with bitter herbs, in a travelling posture, their loins girt, their shoes on their feet, and their staff in their hand. This was accordingly done, and the destroying angel passed over them, and slew the first-born of the Egyptians. This opened a way for the return of Abraham’s posterity into the land of promise.

Also note the significance of the sacrificial lamb and Christ. Henry’s analysis makes this lesson come alive for us:

The accommodation of this type is not difficult. (1.) Christ is that Lamb, he is our Passover, he was sacrificed for us. (2.) His blood must be sprinkled; it must be applied to those who have the saving benefit of it. (3.) It is applied effectually only to the Israelites, the chosen people of God. (4.) It is not owing to our inherent righteousness or best performances that we are saved from the wrath of God, but to the blood of Christ and his imputed righteousness. If any of the families of Israel had neglected the sprinkling of this blood upon their doors, though they should have spent all the night in prayer, the destroying angel would have broken in upon them, and slain their first-born. (5.) Wherever this blood is applied, the soul receives a whole Christ by faith, and lives upon him. (6.) This true faith makes sin bitter to the soul, even while it receives the pardon and atonement. (7.) All our spiritual privileges on earth should quicken us to set out early, and get forward, in our way to heaven. (8.) Those who have been marked out must ever remember and acknowledge free and distinguishing grace.

The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wanted his audience to understand those same points through faith.

The penultimate set of verses in Hebrews 11 concerns the miracles but also the persecution that God’s people of the Old Testament endured.

The chapter ends with a final message on faith:

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Those heroes — and heroines — of faith did not see the Messiah, yet they fervently believed that God, in His enduring love, would send Him to us, which He did at the appointed time, according to His plan.

Next time — Hebrews 12:4-7

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 (as cited below).

Hebrews 11:4-7

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

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In last week’s passage, the author of Hebrews encouraged his audience to rediscover the joyful confidence they initially had as converts. That was a positive warning against apostasy.

Hebrews 11 is all about faith, illustrated with the deeds of famous persons of the Old Testament.

The first few verses are in the three-year Lectionary, but it is important to read them to appreciate the rest of the chapter (emphases mine below):

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

John MacArthur explains why a discourse with scriptural illustrations on faith was necessary for the Hebrews. MacArthur refers to the Holy Spirit below, hence the ‘He’ in the second paragraph:

Their whole concept of religion was founded upon a works system or a merit system. They had the idea, wrongly so – they had perverted their own testament, but they had the idea that God kept score. And if you had more brownie points than negative points, you got in. And if you were sort of good, then that was all God expected – if you followed the prescribed ritual.

And so, when He’s talking to them about faith, it’s really a commodity they don’t quite understand. They don’t quite see – watch this – the absolute independence of faith from works as a way to God. You see? They may have understood a mixture of faith in works, but that’s abominable to God. They had to understand the absolute isolation of faith, apart from works, as a way to God.

Now, faith, having been pure, will produce works. But faith mixed with works as a way to God is invalid. And so, they needed to understand very clearly the absolute character of faith; that it had nothing to do with works in any way, shape, or form; that none of their ritual and none of their ceremony and none of their prescribed feasts or festivals had anything to do with satisfying God. Only by believing in Jesus Christ could that satisfaction come and therefore could they participate in the new covenant.

Pure faith produces good works on its own. One feels inclined to act out of genuine love for another — and for God.

Matthew Henry has a long analysis of Hebrews 11:1-3, however, this is his key takeaway:

Faith is not a force upon the understanding, but a friend and a help to it.

His commentary encourages us to read the Bible often to understand how God works in the world and has done since the dawn of time.

Moving on to Abel, who suffered death at the hands of his elder brother Cain, there is much to be said. Genesis 4 has the story. Cain brought a ‘fruit of the ground’ and Abel brought the firstborn of his flock, including the fat portions (verses 3 and 4).

Henry points out that their parents, Adam and Eve, have no feast day in the Christian calendar:

It is observable that the Spirit of God has not thought fit to say any thing here of the faith of our first parents; and yet the church of God has generally, by a pious charity, taken it for granted that God gave them repentance and faith in the promised seed, that he instructed them in the mystery of sacrificing, that they instructed their children in it, and that they found mercy with God, after they had ruined themselves and all their posterity. But God has left the matter still under some doubt, as a warning to all who have great talents given to them, and a great trust reposed in them, that they do not prove unfaithful, since God would not enroll our first parents among the number of believers in this blessed calendar.

He introduces Abel as follows:

Abel, one of the first saints, and the first martyr for religion, of all the sons of Adam, one who lived by faith, and died for it, and therefore a fit pattern for the Hebrews to imitate.

MacArthur says this of Abel:

Abel’s faith led him to do three things. Number one, to offer a more excellent sacrifice. Number two, to obtain righteous[ness]. Number three, to openly speak though dead. Because he believed God, he did those three things, and they’re progressive. Because he believed, he offered a better sacrifice. Because he offered a better sacrifice, he obtained righteousness. Because he obtained righteousness, he is for all the ages a living voice saying righteousness is by faith. You see? So, it’s progressive.

Verse four tells us those things, saying that God approved of his sacrifice. Abel followed God’s commands on sacrifice to the letter. Cain, on the other hand, did it his way, which led to a jealous murder.

MacArthur has a lengthy discourse of not only Adam and Eve but also their sons, excerpted below:

Now, it says that Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain was a tiller of the ground. One was a shepherd, the other was a farmer. Both were sinners. Both were conceived after the fall. Both were born outside of Eden, so they were born in sin …

Now, the central theme of Hebrews 11:4 is faith, and that’s the whole key to the chapter. And that’s what we want to find out here. Now, we read here that they both brought a sacrifice. Now, this tells us several things, and I want you to get this; this is interesting. Number one, it tells me that there was a place where God was to be worshipped. They had to bring that sacrifice to somewhere. Right? In verse 3, “Cain brought,” in verse 4, “he brought.” And it says, at the end of verse 3, “unto the Lord,” indicating that the Lord was somewhere where you could bring something. There had to be somewhere, someplace where they brought. I think that it’s very possible that the place was at the east of Eden, and perhaps there was an altar there. Verse 4 says that Abel brought an already slain animal, and the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering. And so, there’s at least a good indication that there was already a place to make an offering, or an altar was already in that place. And it’s very likely that at the place where they had – where God had placed that angel – you remember at the east of the garden, with the flaming sword, to keep them from coming back in? – that that was the established point of contact with God …

Second thing I noticed, there was a time for worship

Thirdly, I think there was a way to worship. Not only a place and a time, but a way. God could be approached – now mark this – God could be approached only by sacrifice. The children of Adam and Eve had been definitely instructed that there was a place, that there was a time. And I believe that presupposes that they had also been instructed that there was a way to sacrifice. Now, Cain and Abel wouldn’t have known anything at all about doing this if God hadn’t told them. Right? Because the concept of sacrifice appears here for the very first time. And so, they must have had some information from God about time, place, and how to. It’s presupposed by the very nature of the situation. They came to a place ready to make a sacrifice. There must have been something there for which they could – which they could use to do it. They came together, at the same time, to the same place. And they came with differing offerings, but God only accepted one of them, which indicates God had already established a pattern for them.

In 11:4 of Hebrews, as we read earlier, we learned that it was by faith that Abel offered sacrifice. Now, where does faith come from? Well, Romans 10 – 10:17 says, “Faith comes by” – what’s the next word? – “hearing.” You cannot put your faith in what you do not know. Therefore, to assume that Abel offered a sacrifice by faith is also to assume that he heard from God what God wanted, and he believed God and obeyed God. You see? If faith then comes by hearing, Abel’s faith must have come by information from God. Therefore, he must have known the set pattern that God designed. He had heard that God required a sacrifice. He believed, and he evidenced his face by doing what God said to do.

Therefore, even then, with that first sacrifice, blood was required. God hates sin, and the only way it could be expiated was through blood. Thankfully, our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished that once and for all on the Cross. May we be ever grateful.

Returning to Genesis 4, a blood sacrifice started with Abel, through an instruction by God presumably, and Cain’s offering from the ground did not meet His requirement.

Henry adds that Cain’s offering was more of thanks than of atonement. God expected atonement, which Abel acknowledged. Henry posits that perhaps Cain did not know what God wanted:

Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, brought of the firstlings of the flock, acknowledging himself to be a sinner who deserved to die, and only hoping for mercy through the great sacrifice; Cain brought only a sacrifice of acknowledgment, a mere thank-offering, the fruit of the ground, which might, and perhaps must, have been offered in innocency; here was no confession of sin, no regard to the ransom; this was an essential defect in Cain’s offering.

MacArthur disagrees with the premise that Cain did not know what was expected in a sacrifice:

Cain had the same information, brought what he wanted to anyway. He did his own thing in the great tradition of his mother. Did his own thing. And his father, for that matter. Cain didn’t believe God, thought he could approach God in his own works, thought he’d gather up the goodies that he’d collected and show God how wonderful they were, how he had tilled the soil and grown all this, and he said, “Here it is God, isn’t it terrific?” And you know what? Cain stands as all time “father” of false religion. You know what false religion is? Coming to God by another way than that which God has prescribed. Right? That’s all false religion is.

God cursed Cain by depriving him of further fruits of the ground at that place. Cain left His presence and settled in the land of Nod — ‘wandering’ — in the East of Eden (Genesis 4:16). His wife gave birth to the first Enoch, which is not the one discussed here, then built a city by that name.

Abel, according to the author of Hebrews, ‘still speaks’. Henry explains why:

He had the honour to leave behind him an instructive speaking case; and what does it speak to us? What should we learn from it? [1.] That fallen man has leave to go in to worship God, with hope of acceptance. [2.] That, if our persons and offerings be accepted, it must be through faith in the Messiah. [3.] That acceptance with God is a peculiar and distinguishing favour. [4.] That those who obtain this favour from God must expect the envy and malice of the world. [5.] That God will not suffer the injuries done to his people to remain unpunished, nor their sufferings unrewarded. These are very good and useful instructions, and yet the blood of sprinkling speaketh better things than that of Abel. [6.] That God would not suffer Abel’s faith to die with him, but would raise up others, who should obtain like precious faith; and so he did in a little time …

The next Old Testament person the author of Hebrews mentions is Enoch. His story is in Genesis 5:21-24:

21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God[b] after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not,[c] for God took him.

Verse 5 of Hebrews 11 says that Enoch never experienced death. This was because he pleased God exceedingly as he lived so profoundly in faith (verse 6).

MacArthur explains:

Notice verse 5 of Hebrews, and let’s just read these two verses. “By faith Enoch was translated that he shouldn’t see death.” In Genesis, it says, “He was not, for God took him.” Here it says, “He was translated that he should not see death; and was not found” – I mean there weren’t any remains; he just took off – “because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

Now, Enoch pleased God. Enoch lived by faith. And that’s the equivalent. In the Hebrew it says, “He walked with God.” In the Septuagint it says, “He pleased God.” They’re used interchangeably because what pleases God is when you walk by faith. Coming to God by faith and walking with God in faith pleases God. Enoch pleased God. Enoch lived in faith, believing God.

Now, there are five features, I think, that pleased God, and they’re in these two verses. First of all – the first of the five, Enoch was believing that God is. Notice verse 6, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is.” The first feature that pleased God was he was believing God is. Secondly, he was seeking God’s reward. He must believe not only that He is, but that He’s a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Thirdly, he was walking with God. Fourthly, he was preaching for GodFifthly, he was – and this is the result of it – entering God’s presence.

Then we come to Noah (verse 7). Noah did not know what exactly would happen regarding the flood, but he heeded God’s warning and built the famous ark, all according to God’s specifications, including the humans and animals on it. God saved Noah, his family and his fauna. Everyone and everything else was destroyed. Through his obedience to the letter, Noah obtained God’s righteousness.

MacArthur explains that it took several decades for Noah to finish the ark. Noah lived far away from any coastline:

Now, it may have appeared on the surface to be somewhat foolhardy, and we all can imagine what went on with his neighbors, and the laughing and all of that that was going on as he was out here building that thing. But God said to Noah, “Noah, judgment is coming. I am going to destroy the world by water. You better build a boat.” And do you know what Noah did? He dropped everything and spent over a hundred years building a boat. Somewhere in Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and the Euphrates River, miles and miles from any ocean. I don’t know about you, but after 70 or 80 years, I’d begin to wonder. It would get a little old working on the same boat. But that’s faith. Faith responds to God’s word

Now, Noah was a man like we are. He had a lot of things to do to occupy his time. And for him to give up his great gap of life and just spend his time building a boat took some kind of commitment. And it’s very likely that he never even understood much about boats, because he didn’t live in an area where there were ships that went in the sea. But he listened to God, and he spent his life obeying what God said. Isn’t it amazing? It would have been one thing for him to run out and order the lumber, but it was something else to see him, a hundred years later, still putting the pitch on.

I mean I think some of us believe God, and we run out, and we start, and then that’s it. It never gets much past that. Noah did it, and he continued.

Now, you’ll notice it says, “By faith Noah, being warned” – and the terms “of God” do not appear in some of the best manuscripts, but certainly should be included, if not in the manuscript, in italics, because obviously it was God that spoke. He was warned of God of things not yet seen. That’s the test of faith. What does verse 1 say faith is? “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things” – what? – “not seen.” He didn’t see any water. The Lord didn’t rain on him a little bit for an afternoon so he’d get the feeling. He had no idea what was going on. But it says, “He was moved with fear.”

You say, “Aha, that’s why he did it. God held a big stick over him and said, ‘You better do this or I’ll let you have it.’”

Not that. The word “fear” may give you an erroneous impression that Noah acted under the influence of fright. But the Greek word means to reverence. He did it because he reverenced God’s word, and God told him to do it.

You know what the Bible says? “God commands all men everywhere to” – do what? – “repent.” Some people believe that, and they repent. Some people don’t believe it. Noah believed God’s word.

Faith can accomplish amazing things. These stories give us much upon which to reflect.

Next time — Hebrews 11:17-22

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.

Hebrews 10:32-39

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

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Last week’s verses warned of the severe price the faltering Hebrews could pay for apostasy. The converts, who had been rejected and persecuted, were beginning to question their Christianity.

The author had put a question to them. If God could strike dead those who did not follow Mosaic law, then how much stronger will His judgement be if people reject Jesus Christ?

28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

And:

31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

John MacArthur says that those who hear of Jesus and reject Him will be judged more severely today than in the past, because Christianity is so universal (emphases mine):

God judged them very severely, but not nearly as severely as He judges the man today who comes to a full knowledge of Jesus Christ mentally and never makes a real decision to commit his life to Jesus Christ. That man will find himself in the Judas portion of hell, the severest punishment God has ever reserved. If I have been favored with the knowledge of the gospel, if I have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, if I have professed to be a Christian and then despised His Lordship, denied His authority, broken His commandments, walked with His enemies and I’ve done it all willfully, what is that but another Judas kiss with which I have polluted the face of Jesus Christ and thus deserve to be with Judas in his place?

It’s a privilege for you to be here tonight and to hear the truth of Jesus Christ, it’s been a privilege every time you heard it, but don’t ever mistake privilege for security. Privilege can give you the severest kind of damnation if you don’t receive the privilege that God has granted. The tragedy of Judas is what he might have been, and that’s the tragedy of every man who comes to a full knowledge of the truth, turns around, and walks away. God is not more tolerant of sin today; He’s less tolerant. Because men have no excuse today.

In Acts 17:30, I read you this: “And the times of this ignorance God overlooked.” You know, in the Old Testament, God overlooked a lot of things because they didn’t have the indwelling Spirit and they didn’t have a full revelation, but listen here. “And the times of this ignorance God overlooked” – hear this – “but now commandeth all men everywhere” – what? – “to repent.” God’s not overlooking sin anymore. “Because He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world.” Judgment.

In today’s reading, we see that the author of Hebrews changes tack, reminding the Jewish converts of their initial joy and confidence in Christ. He wants them to recapture that.

In their early days as converts they did not mind the hardships, even when those were public and even if they were held guilty by association with one another (verses 32, 33). They knew that those were but temporal hardships. They had their eye on the prize of eternal life.

Older translations for these verses have the term ‘gazing-stock’, or spectacle, for the converts. The author reminds them that they did not care then about being a public spectacle and calls upon them to recapture that initial confidence. MacArthur rewords it for us:

And so the writer says remember. Remember those fresh days, those exciting days when it all began? The first time you ever heard it? Remember. Verse 33, he says, hey, you guys were in the affliction “partly, while you were made a gazingstock.” Interesting – from the Greek word theatrizō from which we get theater. You were out on stage. You were a spectacle, just with the rest – you weren’t ashamed then. What’s going on? You weren’t ashamed. You used to stand with us. I know the persecutors have gotten to you, but remember what it was when you first began, how fresh and how wonderful and you weren’t afraid.

You had such a good start. Don’t fall now. You were made a gazingstock, both by reproaches and afflictions and partly while ye become companions of them that were so used. I mean just hanging around with us got you in some trouble.

In older translations, the beginning of verse 34 refers to the author’s former imprisonment and the kindness he received from the converts who visited him:

34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.

He reminds them that they did not care when their property was plundered, because they placed little value in worldly goods. Their possessions — spiritual ones — lay heavenward.

The author implores them to rediscover that inward confidence they had in the early days of hearing the Gospel, because the reward is great (verse 35).

Matthew Henry says:

Observe, [1.] The happiness of the saints in heaven is substance, something of real weight and worth. All things here are but shadows. [2.] It is a better substance than any thing they can have or lose here. [3.] It is an enduring substance, it will out-live time and run parallel with eternity; they can never spend it; their enemies can never take it from them, as they did their earthly goods. [4.] This will make a rich amends for all they can lose and suffer here. In heaven they shall have a better life, a better estate, better liberty, better society, better hearts, better work, every thing better. [5.] Christians should know this in themselves, they should get the assurance of it in themselves (the Spirit of God witnessing with their spirits), for the assured knowledge of this will help them to endure any fight of afflictions they may be encountered with in this world.

The author encourages them towards ‘endurance’ (verse 36), a word that St Paul often used in his ministry and one that applies to all Christians even today. Being a Christian is not easy. We read countless news items about followers of Christ being persecuted. In some countries, they are killed. In others, such as Western nations, they suffer ridicule or ostracisation. Their faith can also put their careers in peril.

They need endurance, or patience, so that they may receive their heavenly reward, to which nothing on earth can compare.

Verse 37, according to the concordance, is a combination of verses from Isaiah, Haggai and Habakkuk:

20 Come, my people, enter your chambers,
    and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
    until the fury has passed by.  (Isaiah 26:20)

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. (Haggai 2:6)

3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.[a  (Habakkuk 2:3-4)

In verse 38, the author of Hebrews tells the converts that God takes no pleasure in apostates and will reject them. The rejection will be eternal and severe — more than we can imagine. Hebrews 10:31 says:

31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The author ends with words encouragement: we’re not the kind to reject what we know; we soldier on in faith and hope (verse 39).

Matthew Henry puts it this way:

Those who have been kept faithful in great trials for the time past have reason to hope that the same grace will be sufficient to help them still to live by faith, till they receive the end of their faith and patience, even the salvation of their souls. If we live by faith, and die in faith, our souls will be safe for ever.

The theme of faith continues in Hebrews 11 as seen through the men of the Old Testament.

Next time — Hebrews 11:4-7

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