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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.

——————————————————————————————————————-

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

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 and John MacArthur (here and here).

Hebrews 10:26-31

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 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? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

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Last week’s post discussed the contrast the author of Hebrews made between the sacrifices of the Old Testament and Christ’s living sacrifice on the Cross.

It is important to remember that after Jesus died on the Cross, the veil covering the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem was rent in two. We do not think too much about that. Yet, we should. As regular readers of my columns on Hebrews know, that rending of the veil meant that there was no longer any barrier to God. Jesus’s blood sacrifice at the Crucifixion removed that barrier permanently. We now go to the Father through Him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has an especially interesting detail about the veil. It is well worth remembering (emphases mine below):

The veil in the tabernacle and temple signified the body of Christ; when he died, the veil of the temple was rent in sunder, and this was at the time of the evening sacrifice, and gave the people a surprising view into the holy of holies, which they never had before. Our way to heaven is by a crucified Saviour; his death is to us the way of life. To those who believe this he will be precious.

On to today’s reading, which carries a stark warning about the Christian life. If we know the truth of Christ, yet do not turn away from serious sin, Christ’s blood sacrifice becomes null and void for us (verse 26). If that happens, we can expect fearsome judgement upon ourselves (verse 27).

Matthew Henry says that these verses refer to apostasy, not minor sins:

From the description he gives of the sin of apostasy. It is sinning wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, sinning wilfully against that truth of which we have had convincing evidence. This text has been the occasion of great distress to some gracious souls; they have been ready to conclude that every wilful sin, after conviction and against knowledge, is the unpardonable sin: but this has been their infirmity and error. The sin here mentioned is a total and final apostasy, when men with a full and fixed will and resolution despise and reject Christ, the only Saviour,–despise and resist the Spirit, the only sanctifier,–and despise and renounce the gospel, the only way of salvation, and the words of eternal life; and all this after they have known, owned, and professed, the Christian religion, and continue to do so obstinately and maliciously. This is the great transgression: the apostle seems to refer to the law concerning presumptuous sinners, Numbers 15:30,31. They were to be cut off.

The anonymous author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, appealed to his Jewish audience — some of whom were recent converts, others resistant — by mentioning the law of Moses, the terms of which they all understood. If those under the Old Covenant disobeyed those laws and had two or three witnesses to corroborate such sin, they died ‘without mercy’ (verse 28). That was a temporal death by stoning.

The source text for that judgement, which concerns idolatry, is Deuteronomy 17:2-6:

2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. 6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.

The author then asked his audience about the severity of punishment under the New Covenant (verse 29): would it not be far greater for denying Christ via apostasy?

Henry describes apostasy and the unimaginable punishment for it in the next life as follows:

(1.) They have trodden under foot the Son of God. To trample upon an ordinary person shows intolerable insolence; to treat a person of honour in that vile manner is insufferable; but to deal thus with the Son of God, who himself is God, must be the highest provocation–to trample upon his person, denying him to be the Messiah–to trample upon his authority, and undermine his kingdom–to trample upon his members as the offscouring of all things, and not fit to live in the world; what punishment can be too great for such men? (2.) They have counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing; that is, the blood of Christ, with which the covenant was purchased and sealed, and wherewith Christ himself was consecrated, or wherewith the apostate was sanctified, that is, baptized, visibly initiated into the new covenant by baptism, and admitted to the Lord’s supper. Observe, There is a kind of sanctification which persons may partake of and yet fall away: they may be distinguished by common gifts and graces, by an outward profession, by a form of godliness, a course of duties, and a set of privileges, and yet fall away finally. Men who have seemed before to have the blood of Christ in high esteem may come to account it an unholy thing, no better than the blood of a malefactor, though it was the world’s ransom, and every drop of it of infinite value.

The author of Hebrews reminds his audience that vengeance belongs to God, that God will judge and repay (verse 30). If we reject His Son and His Son’s ultimate sacrifice for us, then we can expect everlasting damnation and an unimaginably painful eternity.

As the author says (verse 20):

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

Henry expands on that point:

From the description we have in the scripture of the nature of God’s vindictive justice, Hebrews 10:30. We know that he has said, Vengeance is mine. This is taken out of Psalms 94:1, Vengeance belongs unto me. The terrors of the Lord are known both by revelation and reason. Vindictive justice is a glorious, though terrible attribute of God; it belongs to him, and he will use and execute it upon the heads of such sinners as despise his grace; he will avenge himself, and his Son, and Spirit, and covenant, upon apostates. And how dreadful then will their case be! The other quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:36, The Lord will judge his people; he will search and try his visible church, and will discover and detect those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan; and he will separate the precious from the vile, and will punish the sinners in Zion with the greatest severity. Now those who know him who hath said, Vengeance belongeth to me, I will recompense, must needs conclude, as the apostle does (Hebrews 10:31): It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Those who know the joy that results from the favour of God can thereby judge of the power and dread of his vindictive wrath. Observe here, What will be the eternal misery of impenitent sinners and apostates: they shall fall into the hands of the living God; their punishment shall come from God’s own hand. He takes them into the hand of his justice; he will deal with them himself; their greatest misery will be the immediate impressions of divine wrath on the soul. When he punishes them by creatures, the instrument abates something of the force of the blow; but, when he does it by his own hand, it is infinite misery. This they shall have at God’s hand, they shall lie down in sorrow; their destruction shall come from his glorious powerful presence; when they make their woeful bed in hell, they will find that God is there, and his presence will be their greatest terror and torment. And he is a living God; he lives for ever, and will punish for ever.

The author leaves that message with his audience. Next week’s post will explore the joy and confidence one can have in Christ through obedience in love.

Next time — Hebrews 10:32-39

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.

Hebrews 10:1-3

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

10 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

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Last week’s entry discussed the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin in God’s covenants, the ultimate and all-sufficient one being the Crucifixion.

The Old Covenant was ‘but a shadow of the good things to come’ with Christ’s perfect sacrifice, which brought with it the forgiveness of sins (verse 1). The Old Covenant could never bring redemption, as animal sacrifices had to be offered annually on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

John MacArthur encapsulates the Old Covenant as follows:

It was only, in effect, a man saying, “Okay, God, I believe you. Okay, God, I want to worship you, so I’ll obey you and I’ll offer a sacrifice.” And God was saying, “On the basis of your works, in response to your faith, I accept that.”

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that if animal sacrifices could have taken away a sense of guilt — ‘consciousness of sins’ — then they would have stopped being offered (verse 2).

Yet, he says, that was not the case, because sacrifices had to take place every year on that day (verse 3).

MacArthur says that guilt became a permanent mainstay of the Old Covenant, and, rightly so, for that time. He also thinks that ‘conscience of sin’ is a better phrasing than ‘consciousness of sin’ (emphases mine):

Instead of being able to look at the sacrifice and say, “Wow, I’m forgiven,” they kept looking at the sacrifice and said, “Oh, yeah, I’m not. I’m just as sick as I’ve always been. And I’ve got to go down there again with another lamb. And I’m not getting any better.”

And so, you see, rather than the old covenant removing sin, it just stood as a constant reminder that sin was not removed. The sacrifice of animals is powerless to remove sin. To purify a man, to free a man from the conscience of guilt that binds his mind, they cannot do it. All they can do is go on reminding a man that he is uncured and that he’s a sinner at the mercy of God, and he’s not free to enter into God’s presence at all because he’s not holy. So far from erasing sin, they only underlined it.

Now, the conscience of sin, let me just say a word about this. The conscience of sin has to do with guilt. There’s a certain amount of guilt that comes with sin. It’s just a system built into you, just like pain is built into you. Where pain reacts to bodily injury, guilt reacts to the injury of your soul by disobedience to God, and it’s a warning system. And they never, in the Old Testament, ever were relieved from the tension of guilt.

Although Jewish people today talk with satisfaction about their guilt for that reason, so do Catholics. Guilt is a badge of honour for both groups.

I remember growing up as a Catholic and being told that after receiving Communion we were in a state of grace — until our next sin. Well, one could sin before one got in one’s car to return home from church, meaning that one’s state of grace had vanished in a trice and could not be restored until one received Communion again.

MacArthur even mentions that in his sermon in a brief comment on Mass:

Now, that, to me, is nothing more than a constant reminder that they’re not forgiven. That’s a throwback to the old economy. We only need Jesus Christ to be crucified once. We don’t have to re-crucify Him all the time because then we’re doing exactly what the Old Testament said … “You can only be forgiven a week at a time,” and that’s wrong. That’s wrong.

Having spent half my life now as a Protestant, I could not agree more.

MacArthur says:

“My little children, your sins are forgiven forever for His name’s sake.” That’s in the new covenant. The Son of God paid the debt in full. He removed sin and He removed judgment and with it, He removed the fear of judgment. I don’t live in mortal fear of seeing God, I live in great anticipation because my sins are covered.

The next part of Hebrews 10 — from verses 4 to 25, all in the Lectionary — explains that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross replaced the old system and inaugurated the New Covenant, whereby our sins are forgiven. There is no longer any need to pursue the old rituals.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

now, under the gospel, the atonement is perfect, and not to be repeated; and the sinner, once pardoned, is ever pardoned as to his state, and only needs to renew his repentance and faith, that he may have a comfortable sense of a continued pardon.

That sentence is a good lead-in to next weekend’s post.

In closing, guilt accomplishes nothing for the Christian unless it brings about repentance — turning away from sin. Repentance is a life-long process, but as long as one is trying, praying for the grace to do so and gradually doing away with sin, then it’s all to the good. We will all die as sinners, but as long as we die in faith with less sin on our souls, we will have fought the good fight.

Next time — Hebrews 10:26-31

Bible oldThe 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 9:16-23

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

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Last week’s post discussed the rituals of the Levite priests, which God had ordained, as well as a passage from Hebrews 9 that appears in the Lectionary, ending with this verse (emphases mine below):

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.[h]

One can only receive an inheritance if there is a will (testament), the person promising said inheritance dies (verse 17) and the death is established (verse 16).

John MacArthur elaborates further on the use of the word ‘testament’, which appears in older translations:

Now, the word “testament” here is … diathēkē. The common Greek word for a covenant was sunthēkē, which means an agreement between equals. Diathēkē means somebody makes the rules up here and you either take it or leave it. And that’s the word that’s always used with God’s covenants because He always calls all the shots and men either take it or leave it. You don’t bargain with God and say, “If you’ll adjust your covenant a little bit your way, I’ll adjust a little my way.” God’s truth is absolute.

And the best way to illustrate the use of the word diathēkē is the fact that it’s used to speak of a will. A will is not a bargain between two people; a will is something made out by one person, and the other person either takes it or leaves it. And so he is saying here, God has promised an inheritance and that inheritance depends upon the death of the one who made it in order for it to be received. That’s a simple truth. And that’s really all he’s saying. A will cannot operate until the one who made it dies; therefore, Jesus had to die. He had to die to release the legacy of God to men.

The kingdom of heaven is bequeathed to all believers. Such is God’s will and testament. And Jesus’ death released it to our possession. And some of it is ours now, and it will be ours in its fullness when we go to be with Him.

The author goes on to describe the blood used in the sacrifices under the law of the Old Covenant. Even before there was a tabernacle, God commanded Moses to sprinkle blood on the people as a temporary purification (verses 19, 20). He also sprinkled blood on the tent as well as on the vessels used for worship (verse 21).

MacArthur traces the use of blood in God’s covenants from the beginning, with Abraham:

You’ll remember that in Genesis, that’s what happened. When God gave Abraham the covenant, God knocked him out with a divine anesthetic after he had slaughtered those animals, cut them in half, and laid the bloody pieces on two sides, and taken a turtledove and killed it on one side and another – I think it was a pigeon, and put it on the other side, and then God passed between the bloody pieces. In other words, even the Abrahamic covenant was sealed by blood. So this is what happened in the Mosaic case, and that’s what the author of Hebrews is saying

Now, you see, here, the whole thing is ratified by blood. That was God’s standard. This is what He required. Now go back to Hebrews 9, and you understand what it means in verse 19. “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, water, scarlet wool, hyssop, and sprinkled the book, and all the people.” This was Moses’ act of ratifying the covenant.

Ultimately, every sacrifice required blood, because without it there was no forgiveness of sins under either the Old or the New Covenant (verse 22).

MacArthur says that we must not get upset or sentimental about the blood shed, particularly by our Lord on the Cross, because it is the death — especially His death — that matters:

this was God, by sign and symbol, always showing the wages of sin is what? Death. Constantly. And there’s no sense in getting teary-eyed and mystical about blood. And we sing hymns, “There’s power in the blood,” et cetera, and we don’t want to get preoccupied with blood. The only importance the blood of Jesus has is that it showed He died. There is no saving in that blood itself.

We cannot say that the very blood of Jesus, His physical blood, is what atones for sin. It is His death that atones for sin. His bloodshed was an act of death. And so we do not want to become preoccupied with fantasizing about some mystical blood that’s floating around somewhere, it is by His sacrificial offering of Himself. It is by His death that we are redeemed. Bloodshed is only the picture of His death.

This is why God required blood sacrifices:

And so always, in the ratification of a covenant, blood was shed, because in every covenant that God made with man, He knew there would be violation. Right? Sin. And that sin could only be taken care of by death. Therefore, initially, God showed the importance of a sacrificial system by making that the initial ratification of a covenant. So when Jesus died and shed His blood, this is no big thing. This is nothing for Israel to get all bent out of shape about. This ought to be good proof that God was instituting a new covenant, which had to be ratified by blood.

Therefore, the sacrifices under Mosaic law were but copies of the heavenly sacrifice to come through Christ Jesus (verse 23).

MacArthur says:

Jesus is superior to any goat, bull, ram, or sheep, infinitely. If it was necessary that the copy had to have sacrifices, how much more necessary that the reality had to have a sacrifice? Not only just a sacrifice, but better sacrifice. All the blood of the old covenant was nothing but a picture of the shed blood of Jesus. And the death of Jesus Christ is that which satisfies God.

God was so satisfied with what Jesus did that He highly exalted Him and gave Him a name above every name. At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, things in the earth and under the earth. God exalted Him and lifted Him up to the highest place He could lift Him to, His own right hand, because of what He had done, He was so satisfied. God is satisfied with Jesus.

MacArthur explains, citing a verse from Matthew that appears in consecration prayers in Communion services in older denominations:

… do you remember the startling words of Jesus in Matthew 26:28, when He, at the table with the disciples that last night before His death, picked up the cup and said, “This is my blood of the” – what? – “new covenant, which is shed for you.” And there, He was just doing a takeoff on Exodus chapter 24. He was to be the ratifier of the new covenant, and it would come through His blood. The shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, His atoning death, is the confirming sign of the new covenant.

This next point is so important. It’s about why Jesus had to die, which puzzled me for years, especially as a child, so, please, if you have young ones, do remember this answer. Every child wants to know why Jesus had to die on the Cross. Couldn’t God have let Him live forever and ever among us? No, He could not:

And so the blood was a token of both covenants, and the point of the writer is so well made. Why did Jesus have to die? Number one, He had a will to give and He had to die to free His will. Number two, always, always, always, forgiveness is based on blood. A covenant is ratified by blood. And Jesus brought a new covenant with forgiveness; therefore, He had to die

You can’t enter into God’s presence by being good. You can’t enter into God’s presence by being a fine citizen. You can’t enter into God’s presence by going through religious m[otion]s. You can’t enter into God’s presence by reading the Bible, by going to church, by being a member, by thinking sweet thoughts about God. The only way you’ll ever enter into God’s presence and into participation in the new covenant is by the death of Jesus Christ and your faith and belief in His shed blood on the cross in your behalf. That’s the only way. That’s the only access.

God set the rules. “The soul that sins, it shall die.” And then God, in grace, moved right back in and provided a death substitute. Jesus’ death is the only thing that satisfies God, you see. Because He requires death. And all over the Old Testament, He splattered blood in order that they might be constantly made aware of the fact that bloodshed was the only expiation for sin. Forgiveness is a costly, costly thing.

This next point is also important to remember. We sometimes take Jesus’s death and God’s forgiveness for granted:

I often think to myself how lightly I take the forgiveness of God. Come to the end of a day and I stick my head on my pillow and I say, “God, I did this today.” And I usually try to recite the things I did that I know He knows about, and I’m sure He knows about all of them, so I don’t try to hide them anymore. And I recite the things I did that I didn’t think were pleasing to Him, and I say, “Thanks for forgiving me,” and I’m asleep in a couple of minutes. And then, you know, I begin to think sometimes as I study the Word of God, you know, for the cost that it took to purchase my forgiveness, how glibly and how cheaply do I consider it. The infinite cost that God went to to forgive my sins. And I’m so ready to sin, in the back of my mind, knowing that it’s forgiven. What sick abuse that is of the sweet grace of a loving God.

That’s why Paul, in Romans chapter 6, faces the question, “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” And he throws his hands up in the air and says, “God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer in it?” Would we stomp all over God’s grace? Consider the cost of your forgiveness, dear one. God is such a bound God, bound to His own character, He cannot break the moral laws of His nature. He cannot violate the moral laws of His universe, and He built into His universe the fact that sin demands death and finally, He’s the one that had to pay the price. And He paid it.

Forgiveness isn’t just God looking down and saying, “Oh, it’s all right. I like you a lot, and I’ll just let it go.” It’s the costliest thing in the universe. Without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness of sins. If you are forgiven, it is because somebody died.

I know that this is not the cheeriest subject matter just after Christmas, however, perhaps this point from MacArthur will help:

the death of Jesus Christ purchased forgiveness. He recognized that God was the one that had to be satisfied, and He offered His blood, and thus revealed God’s love and mercy and forgiveness for all who believe.

The final verses of Hebrews 9 are read on one of the Sundays after Pentecost in Year B. The last verse is particularly beautiful:

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

On that day, we will know the joy that the saints from the Old Testament experienced. Their entry to heaven from Hades (Sheol) was made possible only by Jesus’s death on the Cross, as MacArthur explains:

We believe that Jesus, when He died, went down into Sheol, gathered the Old Testament saints, their spirits, and ushered them into the presence of God, so that they had to be waiting until perfect sacrifice was made on the one final day of atonement and then were ushered into the presence of God. The Old Testament saints, then, who were called, could not inherit their promises until sins were done away. That’s what it says at the end of verse 15. They were under the first testament, but it was only by His death that they were able to inherit their promises. The first covenant couldn’t bring them to God’s presence.

Now … it says at the end of verse 15, “the eternal inheritance.” What is that? Well, it certainly has to be salvation. It has to be all that salvation is, and it came to them in the fullest sense, total access to God. Perfection, in the sense it’s used in Hebrews, came when Jesus died.

they could not have full access until that final sacrifice was made, which truly satisfied God. In the past, God overlooked sin until Jesus could bear it away.

The author continues to discuss sacrifices, the imperfect and the perfect, in Hebrews 10.

Next time — Hebrews 10:1-3

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