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Bible and crossThe 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 2:1-4

Warning Against Neglecting Salvation

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

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Last week’s entry discussed Hebrews 1, in which the author set out scriptural reasons why Jesus Christ is superior to the angels and how He is the only begotten Son of God.

It is also useful to know that the Book of Hebrews was addressed to three different audiences.

Hebrews 2 begins where Hebrews 1 ended. Note ‘Therefore’ in verse 1.

In verse 1, the author exhorts the audience to pay close attention to the content of the previous chapter, ‘lest we drift away from it’. In older translations it is ‘let them slip’.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains that humans are weak and our brains do not retain everything they should (emphases mine):

Learn, (1.) When we have received gospel truths into our minds, we are in danger of letting them slip. Our minds and memories are like a leaky vessel, they do not without much care retain what is poured into them; this proceeds from the corruption of our natures, the enmity and subtlety of Satan (he steals away the word), from the entanglements and snares of the world, the thorns that choke the good seed. (2.) Those meet with an inconceivable loss who let gospel truths, which they had received, slip out of their minds; they have lost a treasure far better than thousands of gold and silver; the seed is lost, their time and pains in hearing lost, and their hopes of a good harvest lost; all is lost, if the gospel be lost. (3.) This consideration should be a strong motive both to our attention to the gospel and our retention of it; and indeed, if we do not well attend, we shall not long retain the word of God; inattentive hearers will soon be forgetful hearers.

The author returns to angels in verse 2. Angels were the next closest beings to God for the Jews. They delivered divine messages, God’s laws and also judgements.

Therefore, the author asks (verse 3), if angels serve God in all those ways, who are we to escape judgement if we do not accept the great salvation that Jesus Christ has for the faithful? After all, the author says, it was the Lord Himself who declared His Son and the audience of Hebrews knew about Jesus from the Apostles and others.

Let us look at the importance of angels in the Old Testament, via John MacArthur:

If a man couldn’t neglect the revelation that came through angels, how much can he neglect the revelation which came through the Lord himself? Now I want you to notice the word if. “For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast,” and this is what we call in Greek, a fulfilled condition. In view of the fact that the word spoken by angels was steadfast, it’s not an if maybe. It’s an if absolutely. It’s a since, or in view of the fact that.

Now let me look at specifics with you for a minute. You’ll notice that it says, “the words spoken by angels. Now why is it that the Old Testament commandments, particularly the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue in Moses’ tablets, why is that so connected with the angels? Why does it say that the angels mediated the old covenant? Well, because the angels were instrumental in bringing the Ten Commandments, and I’ll show you that from several passages, Psalm 68:17.

Now Psalm 68:17 just kind of barely scratches the surface of this. 68:17, “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.” Now where did Moses get the law? What mount? Sinai. This verse says the Lord is in Sinai with twenty thousand, even thousands of angels. So the angels evidently were there at Sinai, which was the mount upon which Moses received the law, the Ten Commandments.

Now in Deuteronomy 33:2, I read you this. This is Moses, and he said, “He said:

“The Lord came from Sinai and rose up from Seir under them; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of holy ones, angels. From his right hand went a fiery law for them.” Now we believe that this is an indication that angels were involved in the bringing of the law.

The New Testament also has references to this effect:

Now in the New Testament, Acts, for example, chapter 7 gives us the same indication, verse 38. “This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him in the Mount Sinai.” Now here is a specific designation that when Moses was in Sinai an angel spoke to him.

In verse 53 of the same chapter, it says, “Who have received the law by the disposition of angels.” So angels were at Sinai. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament we are told that. They were very instrumental in the bringing of the law. That’s what is indicated here in what the writer of Hebrews is saying. Angels had a place in bringing the law. The law which they brought, the word spoken by angels, and we believe this refers primarily the Ten Commandments, was steadfast.

And breaking religious law brought about swift retribution and judgement:

Now what it means there is if you broke that law, that law broke you. Right? I mean there wasn’t any out. That was it. I mean if a person committed adultery, what happened to him? They stoned him. And so forth and so on. If a person worshiped false gods, and blasphemed God, they stoned him. That was it. The law was inviolable, it was sure, it was certain.

And it says in verse 2, “Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompensive reward.” That means the law punished every sin.

Now there are only two kinds of sin, and they’re indicated by those two words, transgression, parabasis, it means to step across the line. That’s a willful act of sin. That’s an overt sin of commission. You know, that’s just going right out there and sinning. God says, “Here’s the line, and over there is a no no.” And you say, “No. Over there is a yes yes.” See, and you go. That is a sin that is active, overt, a sin of commission.

The word disobedience is a different word. This word means imperfect hearing, like a deaf man. This is the deliberate shutting of the ears to the commands, warnings, and invitations of God. This is the sin of neglect or omission. This is standing there doing nothing when you should do something.

There’s only two kinds of sin, what you do and what you don’t do. They’re covered by those two words. And so every sin, whether it was a do it sin or a don’t do it sin, was covered by the law. And both types and categories of sin were breaches of the Old Testament law, and they received a just punishment. And I mean the punishments were severe.

In Leviticus, for example, chapter 24, I’ll illustrate some fantastic things here to you, and you’ll see how severe punishment was. Leviticus 24:14, “Bring forth him who hath cursed outside the camp; and let all who heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, ‘Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him. As well the sojourner as he who is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.’”

Now that’s pretty severe law, but God wanted to make sure that Israel’s purity was maintained and all false prophets and blasphemers were dealt with immediately to maintain the purity of His people.

Now in Numbers 15:30, “But the soul that doeth anything presumptuously, whether he is born in the land or a sojourner, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord and hath broken His commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off. His iniquity shall be upon him.’ And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man who gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day.” You say big deal.

“And they found him with gathered sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron and unto all the congregation they put him in prison, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, “The man shall be surely put to death. All the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp, stoned him with stones, and he died, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

You say, “Died for picking up sticks on the ____.” As the principle of the issue, he was defying the law of God. God set the law, and the punishment was inviolable.

Numbers 25, at the beginning of the verse, “Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.” Here they are getting involved with Moabites sexually. “And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods,” – they begin to worship false gods – “and the people did eat and bow down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Take all the heads of the people and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.’ And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, ‘Slay ye every one his men who were joined unto Baal of Peor.’ And behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman through her abdomen.’ Just stuck them both. ‘So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. And those who died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.’”

See, God didn’t like it when they broke His law.

In Deuteronomy, chapter 17, and you see, God had to do to this to maintain purity in Israel. He defended them and he kept them from these false people. The ones who were being slain here were those who were not of God, but of Satan. And God dealt strictly with them.

Deuteronomy, chapter 17, verse 2, “If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee, man or woman who hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God in transgressing His covenant, and hath gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it and inquired diligently, and behold, it is true and the thing certain that such abomination is wrought in Israel, then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman who hath committed that wicked thing unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones till they die. At the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses shall he that is worthy of death be put to death, but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.” This was protecting them.

“The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hands of all the people. So shalt thou put the evil away from among you.” But why did God do all this?

Verse 13 said, “And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.” If you make the consequence strict enough, maybe the people will obey.

In Deuteronomy 27, and this is the last one we’re going to read in the Old Testament, 27:26, sum up is this, “‘Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Now that’s inviolable law that God set, and it was strong.

In Jude in the New Testament, verse 5, “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.” That’s strong judgment on unbelievers. Even under the old economy there was tremendous judgment on unbelievers.

Now you don’t think for a minute that such unbelief was punished in such a way under the old covenant that it will not be punished in such a way under the new covenant, for indeed it will. And that’s the whole point of verses 2 and 3 here in Hebrews. “If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, inviolable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.”

Now you’ll notice in verse 2, and I must point it out the word just. People like to accuse God of not being just. God is just. God’s never done anything unjust in His existence. In every punishment and everything that He ever did was a deterrent to the sin that He wanted to stop. And He only punished those that were already determined to abide without Him, and to defy Him, and He removed them for the sake of those who were pure and holy and wanted to live for Him.

Concerning God’s announcement of His Son Jesus Christ, the author addressed this question in Hebrews 1. God delivered His message through the many Old Testament prophets. Then, Jesus came to Earth. Now we have His words and deeds to heed via those who were His disciples and later those who knew them:

The Supremacy of God’s Son

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

All that Jesus did on Earth came via God according to His holy will as well as via the gifts of the Holy Spirit (verse 4). However, during the Apostolic Era those men also performed miracles to increase the growth of the Church and to bring new souls to Christ.

MacArthur explains:

So you see, Jesus confirmed his own ministry by his own miracles. And of course, that was the message of Peter on the day of Pentecost. I think it’s Acts 2:22, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you by miracles, wonders, and signs,” do you see? Jesus was approved, or his word confirmed by signs, wonders, and miracles. Do you know that the very same things that Peter talks about there or talked about here as the same confirming signs for the second generation preachers? Did you know that? …

And so God bore them witness by giving them the ability to do the same things that Jesus had done, right, signs, wonders, miracles. And Jesus himself even made the statement to his own disciples that greater works than these shall what? “Ye do. ‘Cause I go to my Father.”

And they performed astounding miracles. They performed the raising of the dead, the healing of people, all kinds of miracles. And so it was that God confirmed them. Now when you’re arguing with the gospel of Jesus Christ, coming from the mouths of these apostles, then you’re arguing with the confirmation of God. This is not human philosophy right here in the New Testament. This is not some little guy’s little brainstorm rolling out of his little pea brain. That isn’t what it is.

This is divine truth substantiated by signs, and wonders, and miracles. And if you don’t think so, just start in chapter 5 of Acts and just read right straight through chapter 19, and you’ll just read about one after the other of miracles that attended the ministry of these men.

You say, why the miracles? God was saying believe them, they’re from me, and it’s proven by the ability they have to do miracles. Now the words, signs, wonders, and miracles are really synonyms. They’re referring to all these marvelous supernatural things that these apostles did. But then one other thing, not only did they confirm the Word with signs, and wonders, and miracles, and we’ll make mention of that again in moment, but also by gifts of the Holy Spirit. Do you see it there in verse 4? Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Now watch this gentle, but powerful conclusion, “according to his own will?” Now the question mark doesn’t belong in that statement. The question mark belongs with the How shall we escape? What is it saying? It’s saying, gifts [from] the Holy Spirit come according to who’s will? His will. Now that’s almost shoved in there just to keep some people from getting messed up about how to get certain gifts. Subtle, isn’t it?

The Apostolic Era has passed. We have recorded Old and New Testaments which provide the revelation we need.

MacArthur says:

They have no need to exist today, because there is no need to confirm the Word. If a guy comes along and says, “Thus said the Lord. Thus said the Lord. Thus said the Lord,” and you say, “Hey, how do we know he’s for real?” You don’t need a miracle, what do you need? You match him up with the Word, right?

When that which is perfect has come, then that which is partial is passed away. We don’t need any more confirming signs. [BB] Warfield, a great scholar of the Bible said, “These miraculous gifts were part of the credentials of the apostles, as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the apostolic church, and they necessarily passed away with it.”

The main message is this:

Three classic reasons that a man is a fool to neglect salvation – the character of Christ, the certainty of judgment, and the confirmation of God. This gospel is a gospel that God has attested to with signs, wonders, miracles, gifts, and now He attests to it in the miracle of His written word.

My friend, let it not be said of you that you neglected Jesus Christ. History tells us that three hours’ neglect cost Napoleon Waterloo. And the neglect of Christ’s salvation will cost you eternal blessing, eternal joy, and bring you damning judgment. Don’t be so foolish as to drift past God’s grace.

The rest of Hebrews 2 says that, for a time during His earthly ministry, Jesus was lower than the angels, however, He now sits at the right hand of the Father forevermore.

The closing verses are particularly moving. Jesus is our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father. The fact that He, of divine nature, humbled Himself to also take on human form shows He understands our weaknesses and helps us to overcome them:

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

That’s something to think about and remind ourselves of as we go about our daily lives this week.

Next time — Hebrews 3:1-6

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 1:13-14

13 And to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

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If you have not read my post, ‘An introduction to the Book of Hebrews’, I strongly recommend doing so before reading expositions on it, which begin today and continue on Sundays. This is a theologically rich book which, whilst intended for the Jews in the years before the destruction of the temple, will also benefit us today. I cited John MacArthur’s discussion of the three audiences for whom the book is intended: Jewish converts to Christianity, Jews who were intellectually but not spiritually convinced and Jews who did not believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

For me, this book made me rejoice in Christianity, knowing that Jesus is Lord! I hope that Christians reading Hebrews share that same joy.

Citing the Old Testament, the author of Hebrews — unknown! — makes the case that Jesus is greater than the angels.

To us, that would seem a strange starting place, because we would say, ‘Of course, He is’. However, to the Jews at that time, angels were the next closest beings to God. MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

… the old covenant was mediated to men by angels, and that the Jewish people revered and esteemed angels higher than any other created being. And if they were the mediators of the old covenant, then the writer must prove that Jesus is better than angels. If He’s a better mediator, with a better covenant, He must be better than angels. And so, as we come to verses 4-14, we find the subject Jesus better than angels.

Here are the first 12 verses of Hebrews 1:

The Supremacy of God’s Son

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,
    and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,
    and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
    the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

10 And,

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands;
11 they will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment,
12 like a robe you will roll them up,
    like a garment they will be changed.[a]
But you are the same,
    and your years will have no end.”

The author wastes no time in getting to the point: God used to speak to His people via the prophets, but now He speaks to them through His Son, Jesus Christ (verse 1, 2).

He explains that Christ has the same nature as His Heavenly Father and that He is Heir of all things (verse 3).

It should be noted that during most of His time on Earth, Jesus was lower than the angels in His humanity. However, after He died on the Cross — ‘making purification for sins’ — God exalted Him to sit at His right hand, making Him superior to the angels (verses 3, 4).

The author goes on to give scriptural proofs of Christ’s superiority to angels by asking questions about various verses in the Old Testament. Those clearly were not intended for angels.

Verse 5 cites Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14, respectively:

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.

14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,

Verse 6 cites Deuteronomy 32:43:

43 “Rejoice with him, O heavens;[a]
    bow down to him, all gods,[b]
for he avenges the blood of his children[c]
    and takes vengeance on his adversaries.
He repays those who hate him[d]
    and cleanses[e] his people’s land.”[f]

Verses 8 and 9 directly quote Psalm 45:6-7.

Verses 10 through 12 directly quote Psalm 102:25-27.

Clearly, none of those verses pertain to angels, but to God’s Son. In fact, the angels worship Jesus Christ. They do His bidding. Therefore, He is superior to them.

The author is putting down the argument that Jesus was a good man who suffered terribly and died. On the contrary, He lives and reigns forevermore. MacArthur says of verse 8:

People who are always going around saying, “Jesus was just a man,” and “Jesus was just one of many angels,” or “Jesus was one of many prophets of God,” or “Jesus was like a lot of other little gods, sub-gods, the inferior gods,” are lying, and bringing upon themselves the anathema, the curse, of God. Jesus is God. That’s what He’s saying. The Father says to the Son, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” That is the Father acknowledging the Son as God. Now, I believe this verse supplies us with the most powerful, clear, and emphatic, irrefutable proof of the deity of Christ in the Bible.

In John 5:18, it’s corroborated, because it says, “The Jews sought to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” Jesus all along claimed equality with God. John 10, for example, verse 30: “I and my Father are one.” And “The Jews answered Him” – verse 33 – “saying, ‘For a good work we stone Thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God.’” They understood that that was His claim. That’s more than I can say for a lot of so-called Bible scholars.

You have it again in Romans, chapter 9 and verse 5, talking about Israel and all their blessings, Israel, “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” And the King James stuck the comma in the wrong place. “Who is over all God, blessed forever.” Not “Who is over all, God blessed forever” – “Who is over all God” – the claim that Jesus Christ is God. In 1 Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the nations, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

And who was it? It was God, that’s who it was. Jesus is God. Titus 2:13: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” There is no question that the Bible claims that Jesus is God. 1 John 5:20: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God.” Now, you can’t say it any more simply than that.

The author then asks if God was speaking of angels in Psalm 110:1 (verse 13). Clearly not:

The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

MacArthur explains:

The destiny of Jesus Christ is that ultimately, everything in the universe be subject to Him. Do you understand that? That at the name of the Jesus, every knee should bow, things above the earth, on the earth, and under the earth – Philippians 2. Jesus Christ, in God’s plan, is destined to be the ruler of the universe, and everything that inhabits it. In 1 Corinthians 15:25 – well, backing up to 23: “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at His coming” – talking about resurrection.

“Then cometh the end” – what happens at the end? – “when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet.” And verse 25 – verse 26: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For He hath put all things under His feet.” And verse 28: “And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God maybe all in all.”

In relationship of Sonship, He is subordinate to God, only in the designation of Sonship; and under His feet are placed all the kingdoms and authorities and powers of the world. You say, “When does that happen?” It happens at His second coming. It happens when He comes in glory. I read you one verse that describes it, Revelation 19:15: “And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”

The author ends the chapter by saying that angels are ministering spirits to serve the Holy Trinity by tending to those who will inherit salvation — we ourselves (verse 14).

Matthew Henry expands on this beautifully:

Note, (1.) What the angels are as to their nature: they are spirits, without bodies or inclination to bodies, and yet they can assume bodies, and appear in them, when God pleases. They are spirits, incorporeal, intelligent, active, substances; they excel in wisdom and strength. (2.) What the angels are as to their office: they are ministering spirits. Christ, as Mediator, is the great minister of God in the great work of redemption. The Holy Spirit is the great minister of God and Christ in the application of this redemption. Angels are ministering spirits under the blessed Trinity, to execute the divine will and pleasure; they are the ministers of divine Providence. (3.) The angels are sent forth for this end–to minister to those who shall be the heirs of salvation. Here observe, [1.] The description given of the saints–they are heirs of salvation; at present they are under age, heirs, not inheritors. They are heirs because they are children of God; if children, then heirs. Let us make sure that we are children by adoption and regeneration, having made a covenant-resignation of ourselves to God, and walking before him in a gospel-conversation, and then we are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. [2.] The dignity and privilege of the saints–the angels are sent forth to minister for them. Thus they have done in attending and acting at the giving forth of the law, in fighting the battles of the saints, in destroying their enemies. They still minister for them in opposing the malice and power of evil spirits, in protecting and keeping their bodies, pitching their tents about theirs, instructing, quickening, and comforting their souls under Christ and the Holy Ghost; and thus they shall do in gathering all the saints together at the last day. Bless God for the ministration of angels, keep in God’s way, and take the comfort of this promise, that he will give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your feet against a stone, Psalms 91:11,12.

Christ’s superiority to the angels also has a relationship to the Old and New Covenants. The author is saying that we are now to study what He taught and did, believing that He is the promised Messiah.

This theme continues in Hebrews 2.

Next time — Hebrews 2:1-4

John F MacArthurThose who have followed my Forbidden Bible Verses series on the Book of Acts will know that I have been citing one of John MacArthur’s sermons in my posts on Acts 23.

John MacArthur wrote ‘Providential Protection’ in 1974, and it is about Acts 23:12-35.

Throughout, the Lord divinely intervened on Paul’s behalf — via unbelievers — to bring the Apostle where He wanted him to be: first class in the governor Felix’s palace, formerly Herod’s. Although Paul was a prisoner and recovering from a heavy physical beating from the people of Jerusalem, he was able to rest for a few days and share the Good News with the upper strata of Roman society in well deserved comfort.

I cited MacArthur’s sermon most recently in my post on Acts 23:31-35 and would now like to share the ending with you. This pertains to all of us and it might surprise some readers in that God does not want us to be miserable. He provides as and when we need it. Emphases mine below:

People always think God wants everybody to be poor, destitute, and barely scrape by. No. God knows when you need first class. I remember coming home from a meeting one time, to give you a really silly illustration. I was so tired; I had never been as sick as I was. I got sick during the entire meeting. In fact, the church wouldn’t let me come home and come back to preach. I was flying from Chicago to Portland, and I was at the end of my tether. I had stayed all week in Chicago in a place that was un- air conditioned. It was 100 every day and about 95% humidity, and I had the flu, and I had to speak two or three times a day in an auditorium without air conditioning. And by the time the week was over, I was wiped out.

And I’ll never forget; I just didn’t think I could hack it. I knew I was going to get on that airplane and get squished in that preachers’ economy section, next to a guy with a black cigar, you know? I mean, I had it all figured out. I got on there and the girl says to me, “I’m sorry, sir, there are no more seats left. We’ll have to put you in first class.” And I said, “Lord, You know. You know,” and I went in there and they started feeding me, and they fed me from Chicago to Portland.

The Lord knows those things. It is His delight. “Fear not, little flock.” First Samuel 30, verse 6, “And David was greatly distressed, but David encouraged his heart in the Lord his God.” Amen. Let’s pray.

We thank You, Father, for what You have accomplished in the life of Paul through Your providence, as well as through miracles. We thank You for what we see in our own lives as the providence that You design guides us to the accomplishment of Your will.

Thank You for the time we’ve shared together today. Teach us to trust You, to remember that You care. For remember the words of Peter, “Casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you,” and to fear not, to be anxious for nothing; to know that it’s Your delight to give us all that the Kingdom involves. We thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Excellent points.

Of course, the Lord also gives us trials — another subject — but everything He does is for a greater purpose in accomplishing His will.

Returning to ‘first class’, the Lord knows what we need and when we need it. He is all-loving and all-merciful. May we always remember that.

What follows are the readings for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, October 7, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings and Psalms. I have given the second selections blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

Outside of the first reading and Psalm with the green subheads, today’s themes are largely about God’s creation, women and marriage.

First reading

Here is the introduction to Job and God’s wager with Satan. In the end, God turned Satan’s purposes to His own good purposes.

Job 1:1, 2:1-10

1:1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

2:1 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.

2:2 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

2:3 The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.”

2:4 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.

2:5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”

2:6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

2:7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.

2:8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

2:9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”

2:10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Psalm

The words of the Psalm no doubt are no doubt similar to what Job said and believed at the end of his trials.

Psalm 26

26:1 Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.

26:2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.

26:3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

26:4 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;

26:5 I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

26:6 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD,

26:7 singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.

26:8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

26:9 Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty,

26:10 those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.

26:11 But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.

26:12 My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.

First reading

This is a beautiful description of God’s creation of woman and His plan for both sexes: a lifelong and faithful union between one man and one woman.

Genesis 2:18-24

2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

2:19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

2:20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

2:21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

2:22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

2:23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”

2:24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Psalm

The Psalm discusses the wonder of God’s creation and how He meticulously cares for it — especially humans.

Psalm 8

8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

8:9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Epistle

The Epistle comes from Hebrews, a letter that explains to the Jews that Christ is the Messiah. Here we find an explanation of Jesus’s role in coming to Earth as well as a reference to Psalm 8:4-5 above.

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,

1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

1:3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

1:4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

2:5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels.

2:6 But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?

2:7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor,

2:8 subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,

2:9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,

2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. Jesus delivers a discourse on marriage and divorce to the Pharisees. He points out that some people are too hard-hearted to sustain marriage and, so, must divorce. Remarriage, He says, constitutes adultery. This view of a lifelong, faithful union ties in nicely with the reading from Genesis, as He cites Genesis 2:24. Jesus then turns to bless the innocent, guileless children present.

Mark 10:2-16

10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

10:3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”

10:4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”

10:5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.

10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

10:7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,

10:8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10:10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.

10:11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;

10:12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

10:13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

10:14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

10:15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

10:16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

There was a time, not so many decades ago, when even secular families frowned upon divorce. These days, no one thinks twice about it. The message of the readings from Genesis and Mark is to be careful about whom we marry.

Marriage is a lifelong commitment. Adam had it easy. Eve came out of his rib.

My last Forbidden Bible Verses post on Acts 17:16-21 discussed Paul’s time in Athens. Various philosophers invited him to address the Areopagus.

They were intrigued by this notion of Jesus and the Resurrection, which they thought were a god and a goddess, respectively. The Areopagus was not only the most learned location in Athens but also a court in charge of all things, including affirming new deities. The Athenians could not get their fill of idols. They thought that perhaps Paul could come up with two more.

The following passage, which is in the Lectionary, is from the English Standard Version with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur:

Acts 17:22-31

Paul Addresses the Areopagus

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,[a] 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;[b]

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’[c]

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Paul was cordial to his hosts and began by acknowledging their idolatry by saying they were ‘very religious’ (verse 22). Whereas others might have rushed in like a bull in a china shop, Paul was warming up his audience.

Straightaway, he zeroed in on the altar dedicated to the ‘unknown god’, whom they worshipped even if they did not know its identity. Paul declared that he would explain the unknown God to them (verse 23).

Matthew Henry explains the three historical theories as to who or what the unknown god represented (emphases mine below):

Various conjectures the learned have concerning this altar dedicated to the unknown God. [1.] Some think the meaning is, To the God whose honour it is to be unknown, and that they intended the God of the Jews, whose name is ineffable, and whose nature is unsearchable. It is probable they had heard from the Jews, and from the writings of the Old Testament, of the God of Israel, who had proved himself to be above all gods, but was a God hiding himself, Isaiah 45:15. The heathen called the Jews’ God, Deus incertus, incertum Mosis Numen–an uncertain God, the uncertain Deity of Moses, and the God without name. Now this God, says Paul, this God, who cannot by searching be found out to perfection, I now declare unto you. [2.] Others think the meaning is, To the God whom it is our unhappiness not to know, which intimates that they would think it their happiness to know him. Some tell us that upon occasion of a plague that raged at Athens, when they had sacrificed to all their gods one after another for the staying of the plague, they were advised to let some sheep go where they pleased, and, where they lay down, to build an altar, to prosekonti Theo–to the proper God, or the God to whom that affair of staying the pestilence did belong; and, because they knew not how to call him, they inscribed it, To the unknown God. Others, from some of the best historians of Athens, tell us they had many altars inscribed, To the gods of Asia, Europe, and Africa–To the unknown God: and some of the neighbouring countries used to swear by the God that was unknown at Athens; so Lucian.

In declaring the unknown God to them, Paul was acknowledging what some of the greatest Greek philosophers believed, that there was indeed a Supreme Being and Creator that ruled over the earth (verses 24-27). Furthermore, the Athenians already worshipped their unknown god, so he was not new to them. Paul shone a light on the unknown god and turned him into the known God.

Henry explains that while a handful of the greatest philosophers believed in a Supreme Being, most others, along with most Athenians, preferred the mythology surrounding their many other gods:

He confirms his doctrine of one living and true God, by his works of creation and providence: “The God whom I declare unto you to be the sole object of your devotion, and call you to the worship of, is the God that made the world and governs it; and, by the visible proofs of these, you may be led to this invisible Being, and be convinced of his eternal power and Godhead.” The Gentiles in general, and the Athenians particularly, in their devotions were governed, not by their philosophers, many of whom spoke clearly and excellently well of one supreme Numen, of his infinite perfections and universal agency and dominion (witness the writings of Plato, and long after of Cicero); but by their poets, and their idle fictions. Homer’s works were the Bible of the pagan theology, or demonology rather, not Plato’s; and the philosophers tamely submitted to this, rested in their speculations, disputed them among themselves, and taught them to their scholars, but never made the use they ought to have made of them in opposition to idolatry; so little certainty were they at concerning them, and so little impression did these things make upon them! Nay, they ran themselves into the superstition of their country, and thought they ought to do so. Eamus ad communem errorem–Let us embrace the common error. Now Paul here sets himself, in the first place, to reform the philosophy of the Athenians (he corrects the mistakes of that), and to give them right notions of the one only living and true God, and then to carry the matter further than they ever attempted for the reforming of their worship, and the bringing them off from their polytheism and idolatry. Observe what glorious things Paul here says of that God whom he served, and would have them to serve.

Paul went on to cite verses from the great philosopher Epimenides of Crete and the poet Aratus, both of whom believed in one Being (verse 28). This emphasised Paul’s (verse 27):

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,

In other words, Paul wanted the Athenians to know that this unknown god of theirs was the real, true God of all and that He is very close to His offspring (verse 28).

Paul had been educated in Greek philosophy and culture, so he could ably meet the Athenians on their own ground.

Paul then took that further by saying that God is not an idol or an object (verse 29). Henry’s commentary states:

If this be so, 1. Then God cannot be represented by an image. If we are the offspring of God, as we are spirits in flesh, then certainly he who is the Father of our spirits (and they are the principal part of us, and that part of us by which we are denominated God’s offspring) is himself a Spirit, and we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device, Acts 17:29. We wrong God, and put an affront upon him, if we think so. God honoured man in making his soul after his own likeness; but man dishonours God if he makes him after the likeness of his body. The Godhead is spiritual, infinite, immaterial, incomprehensible, and therefore it is a very false and unjust conception which an image gives us of God, be the matter ever so rich, fold or silver; be the shape ever so curious, and be it ever so well graven by art or man’s device, its countenance, posture, or dress, ever so significant, it is a teacher of lies. 2. Then he dwells not in temples made with hands, Acts 17:24. He is not invited to any temple men can build for him, nor confined to any. A temple brings him never the nearer to us, nor keeps him ever the longer among us. A temple is convenient for us to come together in to worship God; but God needs not any place of rest or residence, nor the magnificence and splendour of any structure, to add to the glory of his appearance. A pious, upright heart, a temple not made with hands, but by the Spirit of God, is that which he dwells in, and delights to dwell in. See 1 Kings 8:27,Isa+66:1,2. 3. Then he is not worshipped, therapeuetai, he is not served, or ministered unto, with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, Acts 17:25. He that made all, and maintains all, cannot be benefited by any of our services, nor needs them.

Finally, Paul concluded by exhorting the Athenians hearing him to repent, as God commands (verse 30) because the day will come when the risen Christ, appointed by God, will come again in judgement of the whole world (verse 31).

What did the Athenians make of Paul’s discourse? Find out in tomorrow’s Forbidden Bible Verses.

Next — Acts 17:32-34

Last week, I featured two posts on Billy Graham:

Remembering Billy Graham

More on Billy Graham

My last piece on him relates more to his daughter Ruth, who, in 2012, first opened her heart on Beliefnet. Since then, she writes regularly for the site on her page Safe Place with Ruth Graham.

In 2012, Beliefnet recapped her first column in an article called ‘Billy Graham’s daughter Ruth has been through the fire, says it’s time for honesty’. Anyone who has been through a marital breakup or has been dogged by self doubt will want to read it.

The article also has great Graham family photos from the 1950s, which are definitely worth seeing.

Excerpts and a summary of the article follow, emphases mine.

The article begins by introducing her Safe Place page and assuring readers that she will reply to anyone commenting on her posts. Ruth said that she felt it was time to be open and honest, something she could not always do growing up:

She knows what it’s like to have to put on a false smile. The third of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham’s five kids remembers having to pretend nothing is wrong – even when her world was falling apart. All preachers’ kids endure that, but a famous evangelist’s kid has to be especially careful. Stepping out of line can result in a front page headline in the National Enquirer – and bring shame upon a beloved dad.

Fortunately, for her, she was always a devout Christian:

“I really did have a genuine relationship with the Lord,” she recalls. “I gave my heart to Jesus when I was seven, kneeling beside my bed with my mother. At age 11, I made that commitment public by going forward at the altar call at a church revival held by a friend of my father. Daddy went with me.”

Incidentally, she said that she and her siblings met a lot of famous people who were friends of her parents, but they were only introduced and that was the extent of it.

Ruth was not a rebellious teenager and, at the age of 15, was sent to:

an exclusive boarding school in New York. There, “I came down with mononucleosis and I was miserable.” All alone, it was just her and God. “I just had to claim my faith as my own. At that point, it was no longer Mother or Daddy’s faith, it was mine.”

She followed a conventional middle class route of college followed by marriage. In the 1990s, she faced a greater personal crisis than mononucleousis:

her world fell apart when her husband was unfaithful. After 18 years of marriage, Ruth was devastated. They went through months of counseling before admitting defeat. Then just a few months after the divorce, she remarried “on the rebound” but knew within 24 hours that she’d made a terrible mistake. Her life a shambles, she loaded up everything and sought refuge with her parents.

She was worried about their reaction. However, all was well. Her father Billy stood in the driveway, awaiting her arrival:

He wrapped his arms around me and said, ‘Welcome home.’”

Ruth said that, at the age of 40, she was in a deep spiritual crisis. Although she followed her mother’s example of being active in the church, including teaching Bible studies, Ruth did not feel as if God was ‘taking care’ of her — and her children. One daughter had an eating disorder. Another gave birth out of wedlock in her mid-teens. Her son had to go to rehab for drug abuse.

Gradually, Ruth came to understand that these were severe trials God’s people sometimes have to endure:

He had something to teach me about the difficulties of life: to show me that none of us are exempt, that we all have hardships. We all have things that happen to us that we don’t ask for, but we have to endure.

And it’s OK. It’s all part of God’s plan. I didn’t like having to go through that – none of us do.

But it was very important for me to have that experience – and to grow from it. I’m still growing. The story is not over. But that’s OK, God gives me grace. And God is a covenant-keeping God. He is faithful even when I am not. Now I’m living life. I am just living in the grace of God.

During her crisis years, her father told her she was being too harsh on herself:

I remember one day when I was really beating myself up and taking responsibility for my marriage falling apart – just pouring my heart out. Daddy said, ‘Quit beating yourself up. We all live under God’s grace and we just do the best we can.’

Whenever I go home, there’s always a bouquet of flowers in my room with a handwritten note that reads, ‘Welcome home. Daddy.’

Ruth said she had been focussing too much on meeting other people’s expectations rather than on God’s love:

I have realized that I have an audience of One. As long as He’s happy with me, then that’s OK. You can’t please all those other people anyway. There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t think you measure up.

At each stage as I went through this, I knew I loved the Lord. There was no question of that. At each stage, He has taken me deeper. And I don’t like the fact that the deep things of God are taught in suffering.

As a result, I know God’s grace in a way that I never would have otherwise. I’m learning to tell myself the truth.

Hence the reason for her Beliefnet columns. She wants to help others open up, too:

I want to share that and also to dialogue with my readers – so they can unburden themselves – making my column a confessional of sorts. And they will find no condemnation from me. I am not into shaming people.

I believe in passing along God’s grace.

Ruth told Beliefnet that it was difficult watching her father battle pain and illness. It was also hard for him to lose his beloved wife Ruth after so many decades. That said, his daughter thought he was less distracted and a gentler person in his twilight years.

After her father’s funeral earlier this month, Ruth wrote a column, ‘Taking Daddy Home’. She described the funeral and interment — and the bitterly cold weather:

It was freezing in the tent! Daddy started in a tent in Los Angeles and Franklin thought it would be appropriate. Fortunately, my older sister brought an extra coat for which I was grateful.

Each of us had 3 minutes to speak. I asked the Lord to help me and He did. I felt the freedom from the Holy Spirit to talk of my father’s lasting legacy to me. It touched many hearts for which I am grateful. I want to pass on my father’s legacy of grace.

I stayed until he was buried – even though it was so cold – but I didn’t want him to be alone. I went back the next day to see it all finished and landscaped. At long last Mother and Daddy are side by side!

She also had things to take care of at home. Her refrigerator was not working properly and one of her daughters is staying with her. A tree fell on the daughter’s house and they have no heat, so Ruth is hosting her and her family. As such, she says she has had no time to reflect on her father’s death.

Nevertheless:

God has been working wonderful ways and I praise Him that I have seen His hand in a multitude situations that could have been difficult. God just paved the way.

He keeps His promises of Isaiah 40:4-5.

Those verses are as follows:

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

May God continue to bless Ruth Graham and her family at this difficult time.

What follows are the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent for Year B in the three-year Lectionary.

These come from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, a handy online reference for Sunday readings.

Themes are God’s covenant with Abraham, God’s infinite love, faith through grace and salvation via a belief in Christ Jesus. Emphases mine below.

The Old Testament reading recounts God’s renaming of Abram and Sarai, promising that Abraham would be the father of many nations. At that time, the couple were elderly and Sarah was barren:

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.

17:2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”

17:3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,

17:4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

17:5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

17:6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

17:7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

17:15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

17:16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

The Psalm exhorts the twelve tribes of Israel — Jacob’s offspring — to glorify the Lord, who is faithful to His people:

Psalm 22:23-31

22:23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

22:24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!

22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

22:28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

22:29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

22:30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

22:31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

In the Epistle, Paul explains that God’s covenant with Abraham was based not on legalism but on faith, similarly our salvation through a belief in Jesus Christ:

Romans 4:13-25

4:13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

4:14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

4:15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

4:16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,

4:17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) –in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

4:18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”

4:19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

4:20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,

4:21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

4:22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

4:23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone,

4:24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,

4:25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Clergy have the choice of two readings from Mark’s Gospel, the second of which is the Transfiguration. It is useful to contemplate the two together, for reasons which follow.

The last verse in this first Gospel reading is particularly important to remember:

Mark 8:31-38

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The story of the Transfiguration features each year during Lent. Jesus took His leading apostles to witness what was a ‘terrifying’ experience for them. A New Covenant was being made with the world:

Mark 9:2-9

9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,

9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Ligonier Ministries has a concise and excellent explanation of the two readings, ‘The Mount of Transformation’. Excerpts follow:

Peter and the other disciples found it difficult to believe that Jesus would have to suffer and die, and they were no doubt troubled by our Lord’s teaching that true discipleship involves suffering (Mark 8:31–38). They needed encouragement that all was proceeding exactly as God had planned and that suffering for Christ’s sake would be worthwhile. In the transfiguration, they received such encouragement and assurance.

The account of Jesus’ transfiguration is so familiar that we must be careful not to miss the significance of the details. It occurred on a high mountain (9:2), which recalls Moses’ meeting with God high up on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:20). The disciples, on the Mount of Transfiguration, were participating in an event that marked a key transition in the history of the Lord’s people. At Sinai, the mediator of the old covenant—Moses—was established; on the Mount of Transfiguration, the mediator of the new covenant—Jesus Christ was revealed and confirmed

Peter, James, and John saw the purity and deity of our Savior on that occasion, which would strengthen their faith over the course of the rest of their lives (2 Peter 1:16–18).

Reading the coming Sunday’s Scripture in advance of the church service often reinforces the messages we are meant to understand.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday in Lent (Year B), from Vanderbilt University’s three-year Lectionary site. Emphases mine.

The Old Testament reading tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants. God promised not to destroy Earth with a flood. The sign of His covenant is the rainbow. This is one of my favourite Bible passages:

Genesis 9:8-17

9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

9:9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you,

9:10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.

9:11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

9:12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:

9:13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

9:14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,

9:15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

9:16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

9:17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Psalm reminds us of God’s infinite mercy and steadfast love:

Psalm 25:1-10

25:1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

25:2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

25:9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

In the Epistle, Peter, in describing the New Covenant, points to both the themes in the Psalm and the reading from Genesis:

1 Peter 3:18-22

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison

3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The Gospel recounts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and Jesus’s subsequent exhortation to ‘believe in the good news’:

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

This is a powerful set of readings, well worth reflecting upon before church on Sunday.

Bible and crossThe 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 have omitted — 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.

Acts 12:20-23

The Death of Herod

20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain,[a] they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

——————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post described Herod Agrippa I’s ire and humiliation over the disappearance of Peter, who makes no more significant appearances in Acts, other than in Chapter 15.

As my post explains, Herod Agrippa I — i.e. his men — searched for Peter but could not find him. Herod then sentenced his 16 guards assigned to Peter to death.

Matthew Henry thought that their sentence was commuted — because of the events in today’s post. John MacArthur says that they did die.

Regardless, my post said that the death penalty was Roman law for a guard who, even inadvertently, allowed a prisoner to escape.

In any event, Herod Agrippa was completely humiliated. He wanted to put Peter on stage for a kangaroo trial and bloody death after Passover that year. He had already had the apostle James — St James the Great — beheaded in a more low-key way. Peter was to be the great public spectacle, akin to Jesus before the Crucifixion.

However, God foiled Herod’s evil plan for Peter at every stage.

And God wasn’t finished yet.

As I wrote last week, after Herod was humiliated, he left Judea for Caesarea, where he staged lavish performances praising Caesar, who had just returned from a triumphant trip to Britain. He was surrounded by the great and the good of the day. They went to sponge off Herod, enjoying his hospitality. They went to honour Caesar, not Herod.

Herod Agrippa was saturated with sin. Not only was he angry with the most devout followers of Christ, he was also infuriated by others, as Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us, possibly for trivial reasons.

In verse 20, we discover that he was angry with the people of two ancient cities, Tyre and Sidon. Those cities appear occasionally in both the Old and New Testaments. In 2015, I wrote about Matthew 11:20-24, saying that Sidon was a Phoenecian port city, first mentioned in Genesis 10. The Egyptians sent their wheat to Sidon. From there, ships sent the wheat to Mediterranean ports. Tyre was a nearby fortified city, mentioned in Judges 19. It provided the cedars of Lebanon for Solomon’s temple. The two cities were — not surprisingly — steeped in idolatry, corruption and vice. This is why Jesus’s comment about the two cities — a judgment against the Jews of his time — was such a stinging curse (i.e. ‘Woe to you’):

21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

Also see the parallel in Luke 10:13-15, with more about the two cities.

MacArthur explains that, at the time of Herod Agrippa, who was their king for all intents and purposes:

Tyre and Sidon are two free cities north of Caesarea. Caesarea is right on the Mediterranean Sea west of Jerusalem. And up north in Syria, north of Galilee is Tyre and Sidon, coastal cities, free cities, technically belonging to Syria. They were the neighbors of Galilee and of Herod’s territory, so there was a necessary interdependence.

That interdependence had to do with foodstuffs passing through those cities. Both depended on food from Galilee. Tyre and Sidon did not produce their own, as they traded.

MacArthur tells us:

Herod was mad. Maybe he didn’t like the duties or the tariffs that Tyre and Sidon were charging him for his movement of materials. So he got mad at them and he cut off all supplies and they were hurting badly. Herod was very angry and when Tyre and Sidon couldn’t get the food they needed and the supply they needed from Galilee and Israel they were in trouble. And so they knew they needed to make a treaty with Herod.

The people of Tyre and Sidon made an ally out of a man named Blastus, the king’s chamberlain — his trusted attendant or treasurer — who acted as their intermediary. Henry wrote that they likely used bribes.

In any event, they asked for peace, because they were in danger of going hungry.

Herod agreed a date to speak to them. This was a situation he must have relished: having two powerful ports — comparable to city states — being forced to grovel at his feet.

Herod made sure he donned his most royal robes, looked majestic on his throne and delivered an oration to them (verse 21). He milked this for all it was worth. MacArthur says:

He decided that the whole world would know how super he was, how great he was, and watch these two nations bow at his feet, these two cities.

MacArthur adds that all the great and the good who saw the performances lauding Caesar were likely to have been in attendance. The performances had taken place the day before.

Henry agrees with MacArthur that the Jewish historian Josephus also wrote about this event (emphases mine):

he had all the mucky mucks and the leaders all arriving in Caesarea and they met in the amphitheatre that had been built by his grandfather, Herod the Great. I was in that place where that is, big massive amphitheatre and there he had his big throne and all the people were sitting around cheer upon cheer cheering people and he comes out splendid in his royal apparel and Josephus said he had a silver robe on, made of silver. And the sun just came and splattered off of that thing and he just looked resplend[ent] in all of his glory, which is just what he wanted. He was going to get out there and sit in his throne and the cheering people, and he was going to watch all the Tyre and Sidon people bowing down to him and … eat up every second of it. This was day one, the tip of the hat to Caesar, day two my day, see. So he got day one out of the way and the second day comes in his silver robe and he’s the glory of man at its pinnacle. All the Rome pomp and circumstances there, the soldiers, the whole shot, everything is set up and all the little mealy mouth favor seekers are sitting in the chairs cheering, crowds lining everywhere.

This was a big deal. If this were to happen today, it would have been discussed for days on all the cable news channels, on Internet sites, tweeted about and hyped beyond reason. It would have been in all the newspapers and analysed endlessly. It would have been filmed live as a great televisual showdown.

So, duly puffed up with himself, Herod Agrippa gave an oration. Henry paints the picture for us:

He made a speech to the men of Tyre and Sidon, a fine oration, in which, probably, after he had aggravated their fault, and commended their submission, he concluded with an assurance that he would pass by their offence and receive them into his favour again–proud enough that he had it in his power whom he would to keep alive, as well as whom he would to slay; and probably he kept them in suspense as to what their doom should be, till he made this oration to them, that the act of grace might come to them with the more pleasing surprise.

If that had occurred today, there would have been a lengthy commercial break between oration and conclusion of perceived mercy.

Amazingly, those who heard the oration — and, frankly, this isn’t too different to our times — pronounced the ‘voice of a god, and not of man’ (verse 22).

Immediately, an angel of the Lord struck him down. He breathed his last, but not before being eaten by worms (verse 23).

N.B.: Herod Agrippa was sentenced to death by worms. Those worms did not eat him in his grave. They ate him alive. We all know how hideous maggots and grubs are. Imagine being eaten by them. Talk about a spectacle. That was God’s — and Jesus Christ’s — message to him, those watching and us.

Henry analyses this for us, including Herod’s quasi-Judaism:

his fault was that he said nothing, did not rebuke their flattery, nor disown the title they had given him, nor give God the glory (Acts 12:23); but he took it to himself, was very willing it should terminate in himself, and that he should be thought a god and have divine honours paid him. Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur–if the people will be deceived, let them. And it was worse in him who was a Jew, and professed to believe in one God only, than it was in the heathen emperors, who had gods many and lords many.

This brings us back to Jesus’s curse on Chorazin and Bethsaida cited above. If we know and ignore God’s will and Christ Jesus, we will surely perish.

We cannot know God unless we truly believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour.

As Henry explains:

Now he was reckoned with for vexing the church of Christ, killing James, imprisoning Peter, and all the other mischiefs he had done.

Also:

The angel smote him with a sore disease just at that instant when he was strutting at the applauses of the people, and adoring his own shadow. Thus the king of Tyre said in his pride, I am a god, I sit in the seat of God; and set his heart as the heart of God; but he shall be a man, and no God, a weak mortal man, in the hand of him that slayeth him (Ezekiel 28:2-9), so Herod here. Potent princes must know, not only that God is omnipotent, but that angels also are greater in power and might than they. The angel smote him, because he gave not the glory to God; angels are jealous for God’s honour, and as soon as ever they have commission are ready to smite those that usurp his prerogatives, and rob God of his honour.

Henry adds the following for his audience, as the microscope was in its infancy then. His words are also pertinent for us today, four centuries later:

Surprising discoveries have of late been made by microscopes of the multitude of worms that there are in human bodies, and how much they contribute to the diseases of them, which is a good reason why we should not be proud of our bodies, or of any of their accomplishments, and why we should not pamper our bodies, for this is but feeding the worms, and feeding them for the worms.

Yes! A thousand times yes!

Of the worms, MacArthur tells us:

Josephus says they ate him for five days before he died. That’s a sickening debasing terrible way to die. Just when a man thinks he has exalted himself to the place of glory God crushes him to a place of humility. And I say to you, you can’t fight God because his power can’t be contested and His punishment can’t be avoided. Don’t fight God. He was painfully smitten. The pompous fool done in by worms.

God will never be defeated by unbelievers or mockers.

Next time — Acts 12:24-25

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 10:17-23

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation,[a] for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

——————————————————————————————-

Last week we read of Peter’s vision about all foods being clean. Peter was initially reluctant to accept this divine instruction, but, by the third time the vision was given to him, he complied.

I wrote recently about how the Peter of the Gospels was transformed once he received the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost. He turned into a robust leader — fisher — of men in Christ’s holy name:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Peter is about to make another life-changing move, which also impacted the life of the Church. This move was divinely ordained. God gave Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, a vision and the instruction to send his men from Caesarea to Joppa in search of Peter. Then He gave Peter a vision about all food being clean.

John MacArthur says:

God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger; and we learned something else about sovereignty and salvation. God not only chooses who will be saved, but He chooses how. He chooses vehicles to use.

Now this is not apart from man’s will, but it is in conjunction with man’s will. Nevertheless, God chose Cornelius, the receiver. God chose Peter, the messenger; and this is how salvation always begins …

Cornelius, then, was prepared by God. Then God, as we saw, began the preparation of Peter. Now how you gonna get a stubborn, died-in-the-wool, traditionalistic, nationalistic Jew to open up his heart and his arms to a Gentile? That’s a tough one. Well, God had to do a lotta work on old, crusty Peter to get him to the place where he’d ever pull off this thing, and He did. He sovereignly chose Peter, first of all, because he was available.

Now we take up today’s reading. Peter was still trying to figure out the vision when Cornelius’s men arrived at the house of Simon the tanner, where Peter was staying (verse 17). He was on Simon’s roof when he received the vision and was still up there when the men enquired of Simon whether Peter was staying there (verse 18).

Peter was still thinking about the meaning of the vision when the Holy Spirit told him to get off the roof and accompany the men whom the Spirit had sent (verses 19, 20).

Matthew Henry says that we sometimes find answers to the divinely imponderable through active service to God’s people:

Those that are searching into the meaning of the words of God, and the visions of the Almighty, should not be always poring, no, nor always praying, but should sometimes look abroad, look about them, and they may meet with that which will be of use to them in their enquiries;

I especially like this (emphases mine below):

for the scripture is in the fulfilling every day.

This is exactly what happened to Peter. The Holy Spirit got him off the roof before Simon’s servants had a chance to go look for him. The vision was about to make sense.

Peter went to meet the men and, after identifying himself, asked why they were looking for him (verse 21). Remember, these men were Gentiles. One of them was a Roman soldier, which might have been a bit scary for Peter had the Spirit not explained that He had sent them.

The men explained that they came on behalf of Cornelius (verse 22). They included the description of him being a ‘God-fearing man’ and ‘well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation’. That was important. Peter deciphered that Cornelius, although not Jewish himself, believed in the God of Israel, worshipped with the Jews, associated with them and gave alms as an observant Jew would. The men also told Peter of Cornelius’s vision and the direction from ‘a holy angel’ to go in search of him to hear what he had to say.

Peter invited the men into Simon’s house as his guests before he left with them the next day for Caesarea (verse 23). Interestingly, some of the male converts from Joppa accompanied them.

Think of it — a Jew willingly inviting Gentiles into a Jewish house. This was just not done. There was plenty of antipathy and suspicion between Jew and Gentile — yes, both sides, not just from the Jews — and St Luke, the author of Acts, documents this in the early Church. We will see how this unfolded in the next few chapters.

MacArthur reminds us:

Some Jews had said the Gentiles were created by God to be the fuel for the fires of hell. This is a very narrow view. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, a funeral was held. The Gentiles, in return, looked on Jews as slave material, persecuted, oppressed, and killed them. In fact, the Gentiles commonly called Jews enemies of the human race. You can get a little bit of imagination of this kind of contempt about the Gentile to the Jew when you hear Pilate saying, almost with dripping sarcasm, “I surely am not a Jew, am I?” The disdain in his voice, and you can hear the same sting of…of Gentile hate in the voices of the owners of the slave girl, you know, who was used to make them money by sorceries. And when Paul and Silas came along and cast out the demon in Philippi, you can remember the words of those leaders. They said, “These men, being Jews, do just exceedingly trouble our city.” There was a…a great hatred among the Gentiles for the Jews, a deep disdain, as if they didn’t belong even in the framework of humanity.

However, the divine master plan was to bring Gentiles into the church — and Peter was God’s instrument in making this happen.

MacArthur says:

In Acts 10, God directs the momentous, historical event when the church extends itself from the Jews and the half-breed Samaritans to encompass Gentiles. This is the final phase in the expansion of the church.

He reminds us that our Lord knew since forever that Peter and Cornelius would be brought together for this purpose. When you think of it this way, it becomes even more exciting and amazing:

Cornelius is important because Christ chose him before the foundation of the world, and his salvation itself is important … We wanna see what God was doing in Cornelius’ life. So as we look at the history, we’re also gonna see the sequence of salvation as illustrated in the life of Cornelius, and I think what we have here is…is a very general pattern for how salvation happens in the life of anybody. So we not only see history, but so many times we know Scripture’s like a diamond. It has different facets, and every time you turn the light on, you see a new one …

Now, the first point in the sequence of salvation is sovereign call. Sovereign call. Now, this we found in verses 1 through 20, and that’s where we’ve been before, so we’ll not go all over those verses; but the first 20 verses illustrate to us sovereign call. What that means is God sovereignly is active in salvation. It all is initiated by God. It isn’t men running around saying, “Oh, I’ve found that there’s a God somewhere. I think I believe.” All on their own will, no, God is sovereign in salvation; and we saw in the first 20 verses that God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger

And from this sermon, he touched on the same subject, concluding:

God is forever and ever doing that, people. I hope you’re learning that in your life. Never to be impatient, impatient with God when He’s trying to teach you how to be obedient. And so immediately he does exactly what God told him to do, and this is exciting, because it helps us to see again that God uses human instruments. God just coulda come down and said, “Okay, Cornelius, zap, you’re saved.” But God uses human instruments. God wanted to use Peter.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 10:24-29

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