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In closing my series on the Book of Hebrews, the first eight verses of Hebrews 13 are in the Lectionary and are read during Year C (2019) during one of the Sundays after Pentecost.

Thank goodness, because the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us a short précis of how to live the Christian life.

Verses 2 and 8 are two exceptionally beautiful and memorable verses:

Hebrews 13:1-8

Sacrifices Pleasing to God

13 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

The author exhorts his audience of Christian converts to continue in brotherly love (verse 1). That means obeying the Ten Commandments: loving one’s neighbour as oneself.

We should do no harm to anyone and, beyond that, we should exercise kindness whenever we can, especially to our fellow believers.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Christians should always love and live as brethren, and the more they grow in devout affection to God their heavenly Father the more they will grow in love to one another for his sake.

To put this verse in context with regard to the Hebrew converts of that era, Henry reminds us that conflict brewed, with the potential of driving the converts apart. Their family and friends also persecuted them, so it was not easy. Furthermore, those who know this book understand that many were having second thoughts about having converted to Christianity.

Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

It is here supposed that the Hebrews had this love one for another. Though, at this time, that nation was miserably divided and distracted among themselves, both about matters of religion and the civil state, yet there was true brotherly love left among those of them who believed on Christ; and this appeared in a very eminent manner presently after the shedding forth of the Holy Ghost, when they had all things common, and sold their possessions to make a general fund of subsistence to their brethren … This brotherly love was in danger of being lost, and that in a time of persecution, when it would be most necessary; it was in danger of being lost by those disputes that were among them concerning the respect they ought still to have to the ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Disputes about religion too often produce a decay of Christian affection; but this must be guarded against, and all proper means used to preserve brotherly love.

John MacArthur explains why the author of Hebrews made the exhortation to love so simple:

… the law says, ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness,’ – that means to lie – ‘don’t covet.’ And if there be any other commandment, he could put them all together in one saying: ‘Thou shalt’ – what? – ‘love thy neighbor as thyself. For love works no ill to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

That’s why, you see, in Hebrews 13 it doesn’t need to list a whole lot of things. All it needs to say is just love, and that’ll take care of the law; that’s right. If a man loves, he won’t kill; for lover never seeks to destroy. And listen to this: love can’t hate. Love will seek to destroy an enemy by making him a friend.

If a man loves, he’ll never steal; for love doesn’t take, what does it do? It gives. And if a man loves, he will never covet; for covetousness – epithumia, which means the uncontrolled, inordinate desire for self-satisfaction. If a man loves, he’ll never covet, because love is not self-centered, it’s selfless, you see.

So love is really all he needs. In fact, Paul says, “Love is the bond of perfection, it ties everything together.” So love is the basic ethic toward others.

It is also worth saying that the love spoken of here is agape — platonic — not an emotional or sexual love, which some churchgoing advocates of polyamory (yes, they exist) insist upon:

you can reduce Christian conduct down to a simple, common denominator. There it is: love people. And before you say, “Well, I just can’t get it worked out,” let me remind you that love is not an emotion, it’s a principle. Don’t ever forget it.

I don’t get emotional about certain people. I don’t say, “Oh, there’s Mr. So-and-So. Oh, love, love,” you know. No, no. Love in the Bible is not necessarily emotional at all, it is a principle; and if you want to know what kind of a principle it is, read 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a principle of self-sacrifice.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a Mr. So-and-So, Mr. So-and-So is; you need to condescend to help him, to meet his need, to care for him, to bear his burdens, to pray for him. Those are principles that have handles on them. Those are not ethereal, foggy, pie in the sky, lovey-dovey kind of squashy emotions. Listen, we’re not talking about something that’s just kind of syrupy. Love is a basic principle, and it’s the principle of self-sacrifice based on humility, isn’t it

Verse 2 is not only beautiful, but it also has a biblical basis in fact with regard to ‘entertained angels unawares’, as Henry outlines:

Thereby some have entertained angels unawares; so Abraham did (Genesis 18:1-32), and Lot (Genesis 19:1-38), and one of those that Abraham entertained was the Son of God; and, though we cannot suppose this will ever be our case, yet what we do to strangers, in obedience to him, he will reckon and reward as done to himself. Matthew 25:35, I was a stranger, and you took me in. God has often bestowed honours and favours upon his hospitable servants, beyond all their thoughts, unawares.

Does that mean being a doormat? No, it does not.

MacArthur explains it as follows:

Back in Genesis 18 Abraham put out a nice spread for three visitors, and found out one of them was God and two of them were angels. Now that isn’t to say get ready because angels are coming to your house; not at all. But that does mean that God sometimes will bring people into your path that you need to be very careful to show love to, because you just don’t know who you have on your hands. And it’s not just for your benefit either; maybe they have a tremendous need, and a word of love from you can turn a life around. You know that? How many times have people said to me, “John, my life was such and such and such, and I met so-and-so, and in just a moment of time my life was changed.”

Verse 3 discusses those ‘in prison’ — ‘in bonds’ in some translations. That might be an actual prison — and we know that from the earliest days of Christianity, people such as Peter and Paul were in chains for preaching the Good News. That has not stopped. There are Christians today who are suffering in prison, sometimes tortured, for their beliefs.

There are also innocent people in prison. There are also criminals who are not only in prison but also have psychological obstacles that act like a prison which caused them to be incarcerated in the first place.

There are other people, walking in perfect freedom, who also live in a psychological prison: addiction, for example.

For all of them, we must be empathetic and at least pray for them.

Note that the author of Hebrews says ‘since you are also in the body’ — the body of humanity or the body of believers.

MacArthur examines the times when Peter and Paul were in prison:

… Verse 3: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” Do you know really what sympathy is? To suffer with, literally; empathy to get inside and feel what somebody feels. You have to be a selfless person to do that. If people are in prison, do you feel that, those who suffer adversity as being yourselves also in the flesh? In your own body, do you know what people go through when they go through pain?

Remember this morning, when we studied about the church that prayed for three days, day and night for Peter? They felt what he felt, didn’t they? They were hurting because he was hurting. That’s sympathy.

And, you know, sympathy can be shown in three ways at least, many ways. But here’s three interesting ones in the New Testament: 2 Timothy 1:16, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain. But when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy in the Lord in that day: and in many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.” You know one way to be sympathetic? By your personal presence with somebody in need. That’s sympathy, just being there where they are.

Here’s another way: Not only just in your presence, but in certain deeds that you might do. Philippians chapter 4, Paul needed some sympathy, he was in jail. Philippians 4:14, “Notwithstanding you have well done that you did share with my affliction. Now you Philippians know that in the beginning of the gospel when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me as concerning giving and receiving, but you only.” In other words, nobody gave me any money to carry on my ministry. ”For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift; but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. I’m glad you’re giving, not because I get the money, but because when you give, you get blessed.”

Verse 18: “But I have all, and abound; I’m full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of sweet smell, sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” Another way to show sympathy is by deeds of love. Not only your personal presence, but by doing deeds of love.

There’s a third way to show sympathy to somebody and that’s by prayer, praying for them, Colossians 4:18. Paul closes Colossians with these words: “Remember my bonds.” Hey, he says, “Don’t forget I’m in jail; pray for me.” Now this is our basic obligation to other people: to love them with full care and sympathy.

The author of Hebrews moves on from the general to the particular, beginning with a verse warning against sexual immorality and encouraging marital purity (verse 4). He says that God will judge those who have defiled the marital state through adultery or fornication.

God devised marriage as an earthly means of intimate companionship between two people who want to spend the rest of their lives together. This is why traditional Christians hold this institution so closely to their hearts. This is also why it is so important to marry the right person.

Henry says:

It is honourable, for God instituted it for man in paradise, knowing it was not good for him to be alone. He married and blessed the first couple, the first parents of mankind, to direct all to look unto God in that great concern, and to marry in the Lord. Christ honoured marriage with his presence and first miracle. It is honourable as a means to prevent impurity and a defiled bed. It is honourable and happy, when persons come together pure and chaste, and preserve the marriage bed undefiled, not only from unlawful but inordinate affections.

Although MacArthur preached the sermon cited here nearly 40 years ago, the problems with sexual purity were already widespread because of the ‘sexual revolution’ of the late 1960s:

Now the word “sex” has become – you know, there were taboos in the past and, you know, sex was a word that was a taboo many years ago. You just didn’t say that word; it was a terrible word. And now sex is everywhere.

Even if mankind thinks it is fine to engage in all manner of sexual impurity, God does not. Students of the Bible know there are many passages condemning it:

“Let the bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Sexual purity. And we live in a world that’s going crazy over sex. It’s not that people’s desires are any different, it’s just that if society will let them do more things, they’ll do it. And Romans chapter 1 says they get real clever and they invent new things.

People in our society have gone crazy in the area of sexual fulfillment. When two people allow their passions to run away with each other, when two people allow themselves to get caught in a compromising situation sexually, let me tell you something, friends, it is not that they love each other too much, it is that they don’t love each other enough. It is that they love each other too little to respect each other’s purity before God.

And I say to you, if a guy comes to you, girls, and says, “I love you so much; give me what I want,” he doesn’t love you very much at all, believe me. His love hasn’t developed where the most important thing in his life is your beauty and purity and holiness. When he sees you like that, then he really loves you.

Now you say, “And why is this a sin against ourselves?” Well, that’s what Paul said, you see, in 1 Corinthians 6:18. He said, “Flee fornication. For every sin that a man does is outside the body; but he that commiteth fornication” – porneia, sex sin“sins against his own body.” You see, you have to live with this in your own flesh. This is a sin against your own body. The purity of your own body has been defiled. And so God says, “I desire sexual purity.”

The next personal message the author of Hebrews has for his audience is to avoid loving money (verse 5). Money in and of itself is fine, but when we lust after it, it becomes sinful.

MacArthur mentions an interesting observation from Charles Spurgeon on covetousness:

Spurgeon said one time, he said, “In all my life” – he said – “I’ve been in a lot of testimony meetings, and I’ve heard a lot of people share how they have sinned.” And he said, “I’ve had people come to me and make confession of sin. In my life” – he said – “I never had one person confess the sin of covetousness to me.” And I’ve only been around a few years, and I’ve never had anyone confess it to me either.

Wow. That means we’re probably all guilty of covetousness, without even realising it.

MacArthur says:

Be honest: the bigger thing, the better thing, more money, promotion, bigger house, bigger car – this is a temptation for all of us – nicer clothes, all of these things. And it’s a very serious thing. God says, “I want you to be, in a word, satisfied.” Godliness with contentment is really being rich, isn’t it.

Yet, interestingly, as I write this, government restrictions on coronavirus are driving economies around the world into meltdown: ‘Shares may go down, as well as up’.

Both our commentators encourage us to be happy with what we have at the time. I know that is difficult to swallow right now. People are currently losing their jobs: hospitality workers, certain retail workers, self-employed shopkeepers as well as some artisans and tradesmen. The list goes on. They have rent or mortgages to pay and families to support. Life is going to get very difficult for them. Let’s remember to patronise their businesses, have a friendly chat with them and, at home, pray for them.

We are all going to feel the pain in one way or another, just wait. This will not get better for the foreseeable future.

This isn’t a matter of not having enough loo roll or bags of pasta, this is going to be a disaster. That’s not even mentioning civil liberties. But, I digress.

Therefore, we need to commit the end of verse 5 …

for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

… and verse 6 to our hearts and minds:

So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Even though a lot of us will be unable to attend church for the next few weeks, because of coronavirus, we can spend that time reading the Bible and reflecting on our faith in prayer.

Let us also remember our clergy in our prayers, particularly during this time. They, too, have taken difficult decisions in closing churches.

We can reflect on the good example they have shown us and imitate it as best we can (verse 7). That might include praying more, leading a deeper spiritual life, exercising more kindness and patience towards others.

Finally, we come to my favourite verse in the Bible (verse 8):

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Jesus had unlimited, boundless love during his earthly ministry, and He shows that same love for us not only today but for eternity. What He considered good in the Gospel stories, He still considers good. What Jesus considered evil during his earthly ministry, He still considers evil. He died for our sins and, sitting at the right hand side of the Father, His redemption continues to hold good, today and forever.

Jesus is our ultimate role model, therefore, let us be Christlike, as MacArthur explains:

Your first group of examples? Men. The supreme example, who? Jesus Christ, who never varies, who never changes. And you notice it uses His earthly name, Jesus. Uses His earthly title, Messiah, Christ. Why? Because it’s presenting an earthly pattern. He says to them – watch – “Follow the men who were your leaders,” but – oh, if you really want to pattern your life, pattern it after the human Jesus.

Let me ask you something. You want to see sustained love? The first ethic we talked about. You want to see sustained love? Who are you going to see it in better than anybody else? John 13, “Jesus having loved them” – loved them what? – “unto the end.” Sustained love. You want to see sympathy? Who you going to see it in? Who you going to see sympathy in? You hear it in John. He goes to the grave of Lazarus, and He begins to do what? To weep. You want to see sexual purity? You’ll see it in Jesus like you’ll never see it anywhere else. As He denounces the vile sin of sexual immorality in John 8 and then cleanses the immoral woman.

You want to see satisfaction? Contentment? You’ll hear it when Jesus says, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.” You’ll hear it when He says, “The foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” That’s satisfaction. You want to hear steadfastness? Listen to Him in Matthew 4, as Satan confronts Him three times, and three times He says no. “I’ll trust God’s Word, I reject yours.” Steadfast. You want to see separation from the world? Listen to His prayer in John 17:16, He said, “Father, they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

You want to see sacrifice? Listen to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:2 when he says, “And walk in love as Christ also loved us” – listen – “and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God as a sweet-smelling savor.” Never a greater sacrifice than His. You want to see submission? Listen to Jesus in the garden as He prays, “Not my will” – what? – “Thine be done.” You want to see supplication? Watch Him in the garden as He prays for Himself, for His disciples, and for all the Christians who would ever be born in the world.

My friends, the perfect example, the unchanging-yesterday-today-and-forever example is Jesus Christ. The ethics, great. The example, look at Jesus and mimic Him. And you also will find Him reproduced in the lives of men after whom you can pattern your lives.

I hope that this will give us spiritual encouragement and sustainment now and in future.

I also hope this apologetic explains the tenets of the Christian life we are called to live.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 13:20-25

Benediction

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

Final Greetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry continues his analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry explains the joy everyone must have felt:

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

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

MacArthur says of the author and the Italians:

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

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

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

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

Next time — Romans 1:8-15

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 12:8-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ash Wednesday is February 26, 2020.

These are the readings for the first day in Lent:

Readings for Ash Wednesday

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us how to practice piety and self denial through fasting: keep it quiet and never boast about it. Verses 19 through 21 will also be familiar to many.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

6:1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

6:2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

6:4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

6:18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;

6:20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Our Lord addressed these verses to the scribes and the Pharisees, who made much public display of their notional devotion to God.

Yet, they were so hard-hearted that they rejected Jesus to the end, with all their hearts and all their minds.

Of these verses, Matthew Henry’s commentary counsels (emphases mine):

As we must do better than the scribes and Pharisees in avoiding heart-sins, heart-adultery, and heart-murder, so likewise in maintaining and keeping up heart-religion, doing what we do from an inward, vital principle, that we may be approved of God, not that we may be applauded of men; that is, we must watch against hypocrisy, which was the leaven of the Pharisees, as well as against their doctrine, Luke 12:1. Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, are three great Christian duties–the three foundations of the law, say the Arabians: by them we do homage and service to God with our three principal interests; by prayer with our souls, by fasting with our bodies, by alms-giving with our estates. Thus we must not only depart from evil, but do good, and do it well, and so dwell for evermore …

Take heed of hypocrisy, for if it reign in you, it will ruin you. It is the dead fly that spoils the whole box of precious ointment.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving done openly, with ostentation and/or public announcement, has its own reward on Earth, in front of other sinful people. Those who do such things are not pleasing God. God will not honour such actions.

Henry explains, referring to the Greek in the original text:

they have their reward here, and have none to hope for hereafter. Apechousi ton misthon. It signifies a receipt in full. What rewards the godly have in this life are but in part of payment; there is more behind, much more; but hypocrites have their all in this world, so shall their doom be; themselves have decided it. The world is but for provision to the saints, it is their spending-money; but it is pay to hypocrites, it is their portion.

The reason for doing these things in very public places is to impress others. God, on the other hand, remains distinctly unimpressed with such open expressions. Henry gives us the reasons for the Jewish hierarchy’s seeking out the most public places for their most ostentatious prayer displays and why God disapproves. It is not entirely wrong to do these things in the open, but when we become prideful and seek out more of the same, it becomes sinful:

Their pride in choosing these public places, which is expressed in two things: [1.] They love to pray there. They did not love prayer for its own sake, but they loved it when it gave them an opportunity of making themselves noticed. Circumstances may be such, that our good deeds must needs be done openly, so as to fall under the observation of others, and be commended by them; but the sin and danger is when we love it, and are pleased with it, because it feeds the proud humour.

With regard to the scribes and Pharisees:

[2.] It is that they may be seen of men; not that God might accept them, but that men might admire and applaud them; and that they might easily get the estates of widows and orphans into their hands (who would not trust such devout, praying men?) and that, when they had them, they might devour them without being suspected (Matthew 23:14); and effectually carry on their public designs to enslave the people.

Henry says that the public forum is not the place for ostentatious devotion. Therefore, in church, we must be circumspect and not stand out. Furthermore, we make a mistake if the only time we pray is in church:

we must avoid every thing that tends to make our personal devotion remarkable, as they that caused their voice to be heard on high, Isaiah 58:4. Public places are not proper for private solemn prayer.

Furthermore:

Personal prayer is here supposed to be the duty and practice of all Christ’s disciples.

Henry has more on personal prayer:

Note, Secret prayer is to be performed in retirement, that we may be unobserved, and so may avoid ostentation; undisturbed, and so may avoid distraction; unheard, and so may use greater freedom; yet if the circumstances be such that we cannot possibly avoid being taken notice of, we must not therefore neglect the duty, lest the omission be a greater scandal than the observation of it …

Note, In secret prayer we must have an eye to God, as present in all places; he is there in thy closet when no one else is there; there especially nigh to thee in what thou callest upon him for. By secret prayer we give God the glory of his universal presence (Acts 17:24), and may take to ourselves the comfort of it.

Scripture cautions against repetition in prayer, yet, Henry explains that this is only when our minds wander as we repeat the same words over and over. Repetition, when done with reverence and thought, is acceptable:

It is not all repetition in prayer that is here condemned, but vain repetitions. Christ himself prayed, saying the same words (Matthew 26:44), out of more than ordinary fervour and zeal, Luke 22:44. So Daniel, Daniel 9:18,19. And there is a very elegant repetition of the same words, Psalms 136:1-26. It may be of use both to express our own affections, and to excite the affections of othersthe barren and dry going over of the same things again and again, merely to drill out the prayer to such a length, and to make a show of affection when really there is none; these are the vain repetitions here condemned. When we would fain say much, but cannot say much to the purpose; this is displeasing to God and all wise men.

As for fasting, it should be accompanied by prayer. Otherwise, it has no spiritual value. It’s just a diet.

Fasting does not mean gorging at night, either.

Henry, very much an Anglican clergyman whose theology aligned with Calvinism, lamented the loss of the centuries-old godly practice of fasting. This would have been in the late 17th and early 18th century. Fasting, accompanied by prayer, curbs the urges of the flesh for more food and focusses our minds on higher things:

We are here cautioned against hypocrisy in fasting, as before in almsgiving, and in prayer.

I. It is here supposed that religious fasting is a duty required of the disciples of Christ, when God, in his providence, calls to it, and when the case of their own souls upon any account requires it; when the bridegroom is taken away, then shall they fast, Matthew 9:15. Fasting is here put last, because it is not so much a duty for its own sake, as a means to dispose us for other duties. Prayer comes in between almsgiving and fasting, as being the life and soul of both. Christ here speaks especially of private fasts, such as particular persons prescribe to themselves, as free-will offerings, commonly used among the pious Jews; some fasted one day, some two, every week; others seldomer, as they saw cause. On those days they did not eat till sun-set, and then very sparingly. It was not the Pharisee’s fasting twice in the week, but his boasting of it, that Christ condemned, Luke 18:12. It is a laudable practice, and we have reason to lament it, that is so generally neglected among Christians. Anna was much in fasting, Luke 2:37. Cornelius fasted and prayed, Acts 10:30. The primitive Christians were much in it, see Acts 13:3,14:23. Private fasting is supposed, 1 Corinthians 7:5. It is an act of self-denial, and mortification of the flesh, a holy revenge upon ourselves, and humiliation under the hand of God. The most grown Christians must hereby own, they are so far from having any thing to be proud of, that they are unworthy of their daily bread. It is a means to curb the flesh and the desires of it, and to make us more lively in religious exercises, as fulness of bread is apt to make us drowsy. Paul was in fastings often, and so he kept under this body, and brought it into subjection.

Henry summarises the biblical way to fast:

We are directed how to manage a private fast; we must keep it in private, Matthew 6:17,18. He does not tell us how often we must fast; circumstances vary, and wisdom is profitable therein to direct; the Spirit in the word has left that to the Spirit in the heart; but take this for a rule, whenever you undertake this duty, study therein to approve yourselves to God, and not to recommend yourselves to the good opinion of men; humility must evermore attend upon our humiliation. Christ does not direct to abate any thing of the reality of the fast; he does not say,”take a little meat, or a little drink, or a little cordial;” no, “let the body suffer, but lay aside the show and appearance of it; appear with thy ordinary countenance, guise, and dress; and while thou deniest thyself thy bodily refreshments, do it so as that it may not be taken notice of, no, not by those that are nearest to thee; look pleasant, anoint thine head and wash thy face, as thou dost on ordinary days, on purpose to conceal thy devotion; and thou shalt be no loser in the praise of it at last; for though it be not of men, it shall be of God. Fasting is the humbling of the soul (Psalms 35:13), that is the inside of the duty; let that therefore be thy principal care, and as to the outside of it, covet not to let it be seen. If we be sincere in our solemn fasts, and humble, and trust God’s omniscience for our witness, and his goodness for our reward, we shall find, both that he did see in secret, and will reward openly. Religious fasts, if rightly kept, will shortly be recompensed with an everlasting feast. Our acceptance with God in our private fasts should make us dead, both to the applause of men (we must not do the duty in hopes of this), and to the censures of men too (we must not decline the duty for fear of them). David’s fasting was turned to his reproach, Psalms 69:10; and yet, Matthew 6:13, As for me, let them say what they will of me, my prayer is unto thee in an acceptable time.

Certainly, some people have problems gaining weight. Therefore, fasting would not be recommended for them.

However, for the rest of us, some physical self-denial, accompanied by prayer, would not go amiss.

It is hard to think of a better Gospel to lead us into Lent. For anyone observing this season, I pray that you be abundantly blessed in all your undertakings, especially those further enabling the Christian journey.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 12:12-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t want to offend.”

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

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

Next time — Hebrews 13:9-14

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 12:4-7

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

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Last week’s reading discussed the faith that Moses displayed. The rest of Hebrews 11 described the travails and trials other persons in the Old Testament endured; despite them, they never faltered in their faith.

In Hebrews 12, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, takes that steadfastness in faith from the Old Testament and encourages the Hebrew converts to apply it to their own Christian journey.

These are the first three verses (emphases outside of the subtitles mine):

Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Do Not Grow Weary

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

This chapter, John MacArthur says, is dedicated to the new converts who have been persecuted by their families and friends. Their joy and confidence in Christ is faltering. Some regret the choice they made:

the primary target of these words, as we shall look at them, is to the saved who are going through some terrible trials, some real sufferings, some tribulation, some anguish, some affliction. Unless they think that this is something bad within Christianity, and unless they begin in their minds to disqualify Christianity on the basis of trouble and say, “Well, I thought Christianity was a happy thing; I thought there was supposed to be joy; I thought there was supposed to be peace; I thought God was supposed to take care of us and supply our needs and give us answers for our questions, and smooth a way, and etcetera, etcetera. Now I’ve got all this trouble and worse than I had before. I’ve got everybody I used to love hating me.”

That holds true today, doesn’t it? A convert among agnostics or atheists is sure to lose some of his family and friends during his Christian journey.

That can also happen when one formally changes denomination.

However, we have to weigh our tribulations in these circumstances against what God’s people endured in the Old Testament. Granted, some Christians are being physically persecuted and put to death. However, millions of others are not. Therefore, we need to keep a perspective on personal trials and tribulations when they are not that severe.

MacArthur elaborates, revisiting the second half of Hebrews 11:

11:37, “They were stoned; they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy): they wandered in deserts, in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” The Holy Spirit has already shown them the great heroes of the faith. Great men and great women, of years past, lived amidst terrible suffering, terrible affliction, excruciating pain, and faced it victoriously because they faced it – watch this – with the right attitude. With the right attitude.

Now, having shown this at the end of chapter 11, that there were some who faced it with the right attitude, He then calls upon the Hebrews to do the same. And He says to them in verse 1 of chapter 12, “Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” – in other words, so many people to testify of the victory of faith over adversity – “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Listen we have enough people to prove to us that faith endures, that faith is victorious, that suffering may come, and suffering may go, but there’s still victory. We have enough witnesses to confirm that; let’s get in the race and let’s run it with the same endurance that they ran it with.

And then He gives the key to running it the right way. Verse 2, “Looking unto Jesus.” Looking unto Jesus.

The author reiterates this by telling them they were not in danger at that point of ‘shedding blood’ for their faith (verse 4). MacArthur says this means they needed to look at the example of Jesus:

Verse 3 and 4, “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be weary and faint in your minds.” You think you’ve got troubles, look at Jesus. “You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” None of you have died for the sins of the world yet. None of you know what it is to be absolutely pure, pristine to the very core, without a possibility of defilement, and then to have poured out on you all the sins of all the ages. You don’t know anything about that. Don’t cry about your troubles; look at Jesus. He endured, and His was victory.

And so, already, you see, He begins to move into the subject of suffering and how to handle it. Jesus suffered far beyond what we will ever suffer, and He endured. And you and I can endure as the Old Testament saints did, as we look at Jesus. Every Christian needs to remember that life is a marathon. The Christian life is a marathon, and there are obstacles all along the course. It’s like the 3,000-meter steeplechase. There are water hazards, and there are hurdles, and we have to go over. It’s not just flat ground. And we must face it, and we must run it with endurance.

Then the author addresses the subject of divine discipline (verses 5 and 6), citing Job 5:17

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;
    therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.

Psalm 94:12

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
    and whom you teach out of your law,

… and Psalm 119:67:

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.

The author then says that God disciplines us because we are His children (verse 7). If He did not discipline us, it would show that He does not love us as His own.

MacArthur explains that discipline — ‘chastisement’ in some translations — does not mean punishment, but, rather, refinement:

Now, to begin with, we’ve got to understand some introductory things. Here we go. There is a word that repeats itself in the passage. It is the word “chastening,” “chastising,” “chastisement.” You see, chastening in verse 5; you see chastening in verse 6 – chasteneth in verse 6; chastening in verse 7; chastisement in verse 8; chastened in verse 10; chastening in verse 11. You get the idea that’s an important word. You’re right.

What does the word “chastening” mean? Well, most people think it means God’s browbeating us or punishing us for sin. That’s not what it means at all. The word “chastening” comes from a Greek word, a Greek verb – really, the noun form is paideia, and paideia has to do with children. It is the word that means to train and educate your children. Get that. The word should not really be translated chastisement; it should be translated discipline. Discipline. I think the New American Standard does translate it discipline. But the word means simply a very broad term; it speaks of whatever – now watch this – of whatever adults use toward their children to cultivate their souls, to correct their mistakes, to curb their passions that they might mature in the most positive, effective, mature, disciplined way. It is a very broad word. It speaks of instruction that will increase virtue. It’s not just punishment. That – if it was only punishment, it would be a different word. It is – it is instruction through discipline. It does not have only the idea of punishment in it. Punishment is part of discipline, isn’t it? But that’s not all of it. But it has the idea of corrective measures and preventative measures that bring up a child in the right path. And the word is used repeatedly to speak of a parent working with his children.

So, what we’re talking about tonight is not God punishing the Christian; it is God disciplining the Christian into maturity. And so, we’ve entitled our study, “The Discipline of God.” And the figure changes here in chapter 12 from a race to a family: a loving Father disciplining his beloved children. And the obstacles in the race are now the disciplines of the Father training His children.

Did we — will we — ever suffer as God’s only begotten Son Jesus did? No, never. He endured the greatest suffering in the world — for our sins. He took our punishment for us.

Therefore, we will never have to endure that same pain, the same torture or the same humiliation. That isn’t to say that people aren’t dying viciously in attacks on their homes or churches or in prisons under dictatorial regimes, but it will never match what Jesus endured for His father for our sakes.

MacArthur explains:

Christ has already borne the full punishment of God. Right? And God will never exact double payment for the same sins. So, the punishment end is finished in terms of punishment as regards guilt for sin. John said, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” He completely bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Neither the justice of God nor the love of God would ever permit God to exact payment for what Christ has already paid in full. Okay? So, in no way does a Christian suffer the punishment that redeems him from sin. That’s already been done.

However, God will bring corrective action our way because we are His children. He wants to direct us from sin to holiness:

Now, mark this, friends. Mark this, and mark it well, the difference between that kind of punishment – listen – and discipline lies not in the nature of the pain, but in the purpose of the pain. You see? In other words, the suffering of an unbeliever and the suffering of a believer may not be too much different. Both can get cancer. Both can have loved ones that die. Both can lose their jobs. But in one sense, a man is being punished for his sins; in the other sense, he is being disciplined by God. The pain may be the same, the purpose is different.

In punishment, God is the judge; in discipline, He is the Father. In punishment, the object is His enemy; in discipline, the object is His child. In punishment, the goal is condemnation; in discipline, the goal is holiness.

I know. It’s hard to grasp. However, think of it as God driving us away from sin, something that could only be relieved through blood sacrifice. That is how much God hates sin.

Matthew Henry has a more encouraging explanation, even though he wrote it centuries before we were born. He tells us of the objective of the author of Hebrews, which was to strive against sin:

1. He owns that they had suffered much, they had been striving to an agony against sin. Here, (1.) The cause of the conflict was sin, and to be engaged against sin is to fight in a good cause, for sin is the worst enemy both to God and man. Our spiritual warfare is both honourable and necessary; for we are only defending ourselves against that which would destroy us, if it should get the victory over us; we fight for ourselves, for our lives, and therefore ought to be patient and resolute. (2.) Every Christian is enlisted under Christ’s banner, to strive against sin, against sinful doctrines, sinful practices, and sinful habits and customs, both in himself and in others.

2. He puts them in mind that they might have suffered more, that they had not suffered as much as others; for they had not yet resisted unto blood, they had not been called to martyrdom as yet, though they knew not how soon they might be. Learn here, (1.) Our Lord Jesus, the captain of our salvation, does not call his people out to the hardest trials at first, but wisely trains them up by less sufferings to be prepared for greater. He will not put new wine into weak vessels, he is the gentle shepherd, who will not overdrive the young ones of the flock. (2.) It becomes Christians to take notice of the gentleness of Christ in accommodating their trial to their strength. They should not magnify their afflictions, but should take notice of the mercy that is mixed with them, and should pity those who are called to the fiery trials to resist to blood; not to shed the blood of their enemies, but to seal their testimony with their own blood. (3.) Christians should be ashamed to faint under less trials, when they see others bear up under greater, and do not know how soon they may meet with greater themselves. If we have run with the footmen and they have wearied us, how shall we contend with horses? If we be wearied in a land of peace, what shall we do in the swellings of Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5.

II. He argues from the peculiar and gracious nature of those sufferings that befall the people of God. Though their enemies and persecutors may be the instruments of inflicting such sufferings on them, yet they are divine chastisements; their heavenly Father has his hand in all, and his wise end to serve by all; of this he has given them due notice, and they should not forget it, Hebrews 12:5.

If this is still difficult to grasp, think of it as training in sport or in the military. What does the coach or the drill sergeant ask his subordinates to do? Try harder, work harder, get rid of the flaws. Be a better athlete. Be a better soldier. Put up with gradually increased training and, through it, become a professional athlete or a professional soldier.

What are the objectives of training? Perseverance and endurance. We want to win sports matches or athletic competitions. We want to win battles so that we win a war.

Discipline from God works along the same lines. He wants us to be with Him at the end of our Christian race. He’s training us to endure, to persevere — and to be victorious.

The subject continues next week, but if we keep these thoughts in mind, next week’s verses will be easier to understand.

Next time — Hebrews 12:8-11

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 11:4-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He introduces Abel as follows:

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

MacArthur says this of Abel:

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

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

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

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

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

Second thing I noticed, there was a time for worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Hebrews 11:17-22

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 10:26-31

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

——————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the author says (verse 20):

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

Henry expands on that point:

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

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

Next time — Hebrews 10:32-39

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 10:1-3

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

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

——————————————————————————————————————

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

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

John MacArthur encapsulates the Old Covenant as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

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

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

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

Next time — Hebrews 10:26-31

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 9:16-23

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

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

—————————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why God required blood sacrifices:

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Hebrews 10:1-3

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