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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 6:1-8

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings,[a] the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

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Last week’s entry discussed the author’s warning against apostasy (Hebrews 5:11-14), in which s/he chided those who were still on the spiritual milk of Christianity when they should have been partaking of meat in their religious journey.

John MacArthur rightly termed such stasis as ‘spiritual stupidity’.

To put it another way, imagine a youngster still being in primary school at the age of 17, when he should be ready to graduate and enter university. What a waste of so many years of education.

Yet, that is what is going on here with Hebrews a) who have converted but are still stuck in the rituals of Mosaic law and b) who have heard the Good News but cannot commit to living a life in Christ.

Our commentators Matthew Henry and John MacArthur differ in their interpretations as to the identity of the target audience in this passage. Henry says the audience is those who have matured spiritually. MacArthur says these verses are intended for those who have not committed their hearts and minds to Christ.

Both are sound interpretations, but I lean towards Henry’s perspective, as the first clause of verse 1 says that the author will now progress to the subject of maturity in Christ.

Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Why did the apostle resolve to set strong meat before the Hebrews, when he knew they were but babes? Answer. 1. Though some of them were but weak, yet others of them had gained more strength; and they must be provided for suitably. And, as those who are grown Christians must be willing to hear the plainest truths preached for the sake of the weak, so the weak must be willing to hear the more difficult and mysterious truths preached for the sake of those who are strong. 2. He hoped they would be growing in their spiritual strength and stature, and so be able to digest stronger meat.

Henry says that the author did not intend to go through basic Christian doctrine once more, as that should be well established already in both the babes as well as the more mature among them:

neither his time nor theirs must be spent in laying these foundations over and over again.

Henry says the following six principles are essential to Christian doctrine:

These are the great foundation-principles which ministers should clearly and convincingly unfold, and closely apply. In these the people should be well instructed and established, and from these they must never depart; without these, the other parts of religion have no foundation to support them.

1/ Repentance from ‘dead works’ towards works based in faith towards God (verse 1):

Observe here, (1.) The sins of persons unconverted are dead works; they proceed from persons spiritually dead, and they tend to death eternal. (2.) Repentance for dead works, if it be right, is repentance from dead works, a universal change of heart and life. (3.) Repentance for and from dead works is a foundation-principle, which must not be laid again, though we must renew our repentance daily.

2/ Faith towards God — and the works that emanate from it — involves a belief in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We must actively believe in the nature of the Holy Trinity — the Triune God — as well as what Holy Scripture teaches us:

Observe, (1.) Repentance from dead works, and faith towards God, are connected, and always go together; they are inseparable twins, the one cannot live without the other. (2.) Both of these are foundation-principles, which should be once well laid, but never pulled up, so as to need to be laid over again; we must not relapse into infidelity.

3/ The washings of the Christian are different to those mandated in Mosaic law, which were ritual cleansings (verse 2). We have the sacrament of Baptism, which operates both outwardly and inwardly and is received only once:

The doctrine of baptisms, that is, of being baptized by a minister of Christ with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as the initiating sign or seal of the covenant of grace, strongly engaging the person so baptized to get acquainted with the new covenant, to adhere to it, and prepare to renew it at the table of the Lord and sincerely to regulate himself according to it, relying upon the truth and faithfulness of God for the blessings contained in it. And the doctrine of an inward baptism, that of the Spirit sprinkling the blood of Christ upon the soul, for justification, and the graces of the Spirit for sanctification. This ordinance of baptism is a foundation to be rightly laid, and daily remembered, but not repeated.

4/ The Christian laying on of hands is no longer that of the Old Testament Jew touching his sacrifice in order to make himself one with it (verse 2), but a renewing gesture used in Ordination and Confirmation so that the Holy Spirit and His many divine gifts would come upon that person. In the case of Confirmation, said gesture signifies full membership in the Church. Again, whether Ordination or Confirmation, this is done only once:

This passing from incomplete to complete church membership was performed by laying on of hands, which was extraordinary conveyance of the gift of the Holy Ghost continued. This, once done, all are obliged to abide by, and not to need another solemn admission, as at first, but to go on, and grow up, in Christ. Or by this may be meant ordination of persons to the ministerial office, who are duly qualified for it and inclined to it; and this by fasting and prayer, with laying on of the hands of the presbytery: and this is to be done but once.

5/ The resurrection of the dead (verse 2), meaning the eventual reunification of body and soul in the afterlife, whether rewarded or punished:

The resurrection of the dead, that is, of dead bodies; and their re-union with their souls, to be eternal companions together in weal or woe, according as their state was towards God when they died, and the course of life they led in this world.

This, as Paul’s testimony indicated during his trials at the end of the Book of Acts, was a belief that ran through the Old Testament and was held to by the Pharisees. Only the Sadducees disregarded it.

6/ Our final reward or punishment is for eternity (verse 2):

Eternal judgment, determining the soul of every one, when it leaves the body at death, and both soul and body at the last day, to their eternal state, every one to his proper society and employment to which they were entitled and fitted here on earth; the wicked to everlasting punishment, the righteous to life eternal.

I daresay we do not hear much about the last two principles, which is why it is important to read and study Scripture independently. Some might be able to find a (dreaded) ‘small group’ to do this, but such a group often requires subscribing to a hive-mind of thought, which might go against what the Bible teaches. This is why I advocate that people do it themselves with good commentaries on hand to illuminate and explain difficult truths.

Verse 3 is interesting. Is the author being self-referential or speaking of the audience? John MacArthur rightly asks us to consider both possibilities:

… interpreting verse 3 is very difficult, even though it’s very brief. Well, let’s just look at it from two angles. The power in verse 3, “And this will we do if God permits.” Now, some people say this refers to the writer of Hebrews. The idea is that the Spirit is saying one – possibly this, that the writer of Hebrews is saying, “I will go on and teach you what I want you to know if God permits Me.” The other interpretation is that He’s saying, “You will go on to maturity if God permits you.”

Now, since there’s no way to be sure which, let’s just take both. For whether you’re talking about salvation or service, it’s all energized by the Holy Spirit. And the writer can say, “I want to go on and say more about this if the Spirit wills, or if God permits, and I want you to come to Jesus Christ, all the way to maturity if God permits.”

You see, really everything revolves around the permission of God. Divine enablement is the issue in every case, and the writer acknowledges that.

In verses 4 through 6, the author gives the Hebrews — and us — another warning about apostasy. If we have heard the Gospel, experienced (‘tasted’) the holy gift that comes from hearing it and have shared in the Holy Spirit, then fall away, God will not restore us to the state where we want to repent.

That is very serious. We know from the Bible that all things are possible with God, yet, God will withdraw His infinite mercy if we persist against Him. This goes back to the discourse by the author of Hebrews about Psalm 95, namely verses 7 and 8:

Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

Henry explains that any ability to repent from apostasy must come from God — and that very rarely happens:

The great misery of apostates. [1.] It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. It is extremely hazardous. Very few instances can be given of those who have gone so far and fallen away, and yet ever have been brought to true repentance, such a repentance as is indeed a renovation of the soul. Some have thought this is the sin against the Holy Ghost, but without ground. The sin here mentioned is plainly apostasy both from the truth and the ways of Christ. God can renew them to repentance, but he seldom does it; and with men themselves it is impossible.

The author of Hebrews then makes a chilling statement: apostasy is akin to crucifying Christ all over again (verse 6). Our commentators differ somewhat on the meaning of ‘once again’ in that verse. It is ‘afresh’ in older translations. Henry takes it as figuratively re-committing the act, whereas MacArthur says:

… the word “afresh” is not best there. It’s really put in there because of a preposition that’s connected to the word “crucify,” but it means to crucify up, not afresh. And that simply means to lift up in crucifixion.

However, both men agree that the ultimate meaning is that those who fall away from Christianity, having experienced it, are denying Christ and are no different to those who shouted out for His death and those who crucified Him.

Of apostates, Henry says:

They declare that they approve of what the Jews did in crucifying Christ, and that they would be glad to do the same thing again if it were in their power. They pour the greatest contempt upon the Son of God, and therefore upon God himself, who expects all should reverence his Son, and honour him as they honour the Father. They do what in them lies to represent Christ and Christianity as a shameful thing, and would have him to be a public shame and reproach. This is the nature of apostasy.

MacArthur examines the issue from the perspective of the Hebrews who had converted but were backsliding or those who had heard the Good News but refused to commit to a belief in Christ as the Messiah. Both were spiritually dangerous places to be:

As far as they’re concerned, the Son of God deserves to be crucified. That’s what it’s all about.

In other words, here’s the point: they came all the way up to the edge of faith. They heard it all; they got all the revelation; they turned, went back to Judaism, which had been guilty of killing Jesus Christ. They took their stand with the crucifiers. They said, “That’s the same verdict that we give.”

And consequently, according to them, Jesus should be crucified. Do you see? They are declaring that they have made a trial of Jesus Christ with all the evidence possible and found Him no true Messiah, turned around, gone back to Judaism. Said, “Jesus is an imposter and deceiver, and He got exactly what was coming.” That’s what that means. They agree with those who killed Jesus, that He was a fake. And they put Him to an open guilt. The word “shame” means guilt. They declare openly that Jesus is guilty.

Now, you can imagine what would happen. Take a Jew that came all the way up here. His friends were persecuting him, really rapping him for this. He turns around, forsakes Christ, goes right back to Judaism. He has declared for all time and for everybody around, “With all the evidence in, friends, Jesus is a fake; I’m going back to Judaism.”

As for Christians in that same dire spiritual state, MacArthur says to those who might have been in his church:

If you come to this place tonight, and you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and you turn your back on Christ, and you walk away, you have done exactly that. You have said, “I’ve heard the evidence. My verdict is the crowd that killed Him was right. I stand with the crucifiers.”

Jesus said, “A man is either for Me, or he’s” – what? – “against Me.” Salvation to that apostate then becomes impossible, for he rejects against full light, and that is incurable. And reserved for such a one is the hottest hell. Everything in this passage could be said of Judas, and his hell must be the hottest of all.

Hebrews 10:29, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing?”

And that’s what an apostate does, comes all the way up and says, “It’s a lot of baloney. Jesus was a fake, and His blood isn’t holy,” turn around and walk back.

You say, “I’d never do that. I’m tolerant. I’ll just kind of stay on the edge for a while.” My friend, if you don’t come to Jesus Christ, eventually you’ll go away from Him. And when you go away from Him in full light, you step into the possibility of impossibility.

In verse 7, the author of Hebrews describes the state of spiritual maturity, as if one’s soul were a field of crops continually refreshed by blessed rain, growing and becoming fruitful in the Lord.

Then he describes the opposite state: the field that is filled with thorns and thistles, fit only for burning (verse 8).

Henry tells us:

God will concern himself no more about such wicked apostates; he will let them alone, and cast them out of his care; he will command the clouds that they rain no more upon them. Divine influences shall be restrained; and that is not all, but such ground is nigh unto cursing; so far is it from receiving the blessing, that a dreadful curse hangs over it, though as yet, through the patience of God, the curse is not fully executed. Lastly, Its end is to be burned. Apostasy will be punished with everlasting burnings, the fire that shall never be quenched. This is the sad end to which apostasy leads, and therefore Christians should go on and grow in grace, lest, if they do not go forward, they should go backward, till they bring matters to this woeful extremity of sin and misery.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

You see, God’s grace falls, but some men bring forth fruit. Others bring forth thorns. I pray God that when the rain of the Gospel of Jesus Christ falls on you, that you’ll issue forth in herbs fit for use.

That, too, is my prayer for all of us.

The exhortation to active faith continues next week.

Next time — Hebrews 6:9-12

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 4:1-5

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.[a] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

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Last week’s entry was about the unknown author’s warning about rebellion against God and unbelief leading to eternal condemnation rather than eternal rest.

The same theme continues, again, with the author’s citation of Psalm 95.

Even though we do not know who wrote Hebrews, we can be sure the Holy Spirit was at work.

The contextual background is the Israelites’ rebellion in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The Hebrews author says that, as the Messiah came to Earth, the Jewish audience — most of whom were converts to Christianity — has a greater share of rest and eternal life, therefore, they mustn’t lose it.

John MacArthur sums it up well (emphases mine):

Unbelief forfeits rest. And the word rest used back there in Psalm 95, which is being quoted here, has reference to entering a land of Canaan. Resting from the wanderings and the persecution in Egypt, and so forth and so on. It’s the rest of finally getting into your own land, not being persecuted, not being pressured, not being killed, not being made slaves. It’s rests from all of that. And they never entered into that promised rest because of unbelief. That’s the basic principle of this whole passage. Nobody experiences God’s rest apart from faith. That’s the key to entering into rest.

Now, if you go back to Moses’ situation in Numbers chapter 14, you find in verses 22 and 23 these words, “Because all those men have seen my glory” – this is God talking to Israel in the wilderness – “They’ve seen my miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and they have tempted me ten times and have not harked to my voice. Surely they shall not see the land which I swear unto their fathers. Neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.” God said “Because you’ve never believed me but you’ve constantly thought you needed to put me to the test. You’ve never accepted me, you always wanted to prove me. You’ve never believed. You’ll not enter the land.” And the Bible says their carcasses would die in the wilderness.

Now, even under Joshua – of course you realize that was a whole generation that died off. Then the younger generation when into the land. But even when the younger generation went into the land, they did not enjoy the full rest that God had planned for them. And the reason they didn’t enjoy that full rest was simply because when they got into the land, instead of doing what God told them to do and believing God in obedient faith, they rejected God’s information to them. And God said, “Because of that, I’m going to drive you right back out of the land.” And that’s exactly what he did at a later time.

So even the generation that went into the land never experienced full rest. It was a hassle all the time. Fighting against every imaginable group, and they got messed up from beginning to end of their time in the land. So, there was no rest in either Moses’ case or Joshua’s case, the people who died in the wilderness or who entered the land because of unbelief. And may I say this? There is still a rest available. The rest of Canaan pictures a divine spiritual rest that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a picture of salvation rest. And that salvation rest, as we shall see in a moment, is still available. But it is only available to those who believe God, who commit themselves in faith to him.

Israel never entered full rest because of their unbelief, and Moses couldn’t make it happen, and Joshua couldn’t make it happen. But God has a rest far greater than Canaan. God has an eternal rest. It’s available to you by faith in Jesus Christ. And it takes a greater than Moses and a greater than Joshua to make it a reality. And that greater than both is Jesus Himself.

The author warns again against unbelief in Hebrews 4:1: no backsliding, otherwise, God will withdraw the promise of eternal rest.

Note the word ‘fear’ in that verse. That is the fear of God and His fair judgements. He blesses us so abundantly, yet so many of us turn from Him in adversity. This was the situation that the Jewish converts found themselves in. As serious as those were, the persecution and rejection were temporal. Being more concerned over temporal difficulty, as awful as it was for some, they had taken their eyes off the goal — eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Verse 2 is just as crucial for us as it was for the Hebrews of the early Church. We all hear the same Gospel message of the Good News, but it does not meet with faith in all who hear it.

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates:

We do not mix faith with what we hear; it is faith in the hearer that is the life of the word. Though the preacher believes the gospel, and endeavours to mix faith with his preaching, and to speak as one who has believed and so spoken, yet, if the hearers have not faith in their souls to mix with the word, they will be never the better for it. This faith must mingle with every word, and be in act and exercise while we are hearing; and, when we have heard the word, assenting to the truth of it, approving of it, accepting the mercy offered, applying the word to ourselves with suitable affections, then we shall find great profit and gain by the word preached.

I read online of people who are so subsumed in spiritual doubt that they cannot extricate themselves from it. They spend their time navel gazing over past sins, surely forgiven. That is some of Satan’s finest work: urging someone to navel gaze and wilfully ignore the promise of the Word, Jesus Christ.

I have run across a few personally. I have urged them to pray for more grace and faith. I have encouraged them to read the Bible, over and over. Unfortunately, they ignored my advice at the time. Perhaps their circumstances have improved since then. I certainly hope so.

Pray for more faith. Pray for more grace. God will surely grant it, through His Son.

How does one pray? One begins with the Lord’s Prayer. One also petitions God, through Jesus, for a good day, for help in case a problem arises, for personal safety and health not only of ourselves but also of our loved ones. One works up the frequency of prayer, sometimes reciting prayers from church or Bible verses (e.g. the Psalms).

St Paul prayed unceasingly.

Reading the Bible regularly helps to increase the frequency of prayer. My favourite books, in order, are the Gospel according to John, the Book of Acts and the Book of Hebrews. I cannot recommend them too often. Start with those three. Read the Lectionary readings for each Sunday. Understand how the Old Testament and the Old Covenant promised the New Testament and the New Covenant, respectively. Do this often and soon it becomes part of a daily routine.

In verse 3, the author once again reminds the Hebrew audience of Psalm 95, wherein God withdraws rest from those who have turned away from Him. May that never happen to us. We must continue in a ‘lively faith’, as the old Anglican and Episcopalian liturgies say.

Henry explains the delicate balance of faith, backsliding and unbelief:

Observe, 1. Grace and glory are attainable by all under the gospel: there is an offer, and a promise to those who shall accept the offer. 2. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who might have attained salvation by faith may fall short by unbelief. 3. It is a dreadful thing so much as to seem to fall short of the gospel salvation, to seem so to themselves, to lose their comfortable hope; and to seem so to others, so losing the honour of their holy profession. But, if it be so dreadful to seem to fall short of this rest, it is much more dreadful really to fall short. Such a disappointment must be fatal. 4. One good means to prevent either our real falling short or seeming to fall short is to maintain a holy and religious fear lest we should fall short. This will make us vigilant and diligent, sincere and serious; this fear will put us upon examining our faith and exercising it; whereas presumption is the high road to ruin.

The author points out that God also rested — on the seventh day (verses 3, 4). Now we enter into the notion of temporal — everyday — rest during our lifetimes. God also commands us to follow His example: keep holy the Sabbath Day. That means a temporal rest from our labours but also contemplation and praise of God for the promise of eternal spiritual rest.

MacArthur says:

So, when the Bible says here in Hebrews 3 and 4 that God offers you rest, it means … A new relationship with God that is multi-faceted … It’s full. It’s blessed. It’s sweet. It’s satisfying. It’s peaceful. And this is exactly what God is offering to every man, and this is exactly what was pictured in the Canaan rest that Israel never understood and never entered into because of unbelief.

The author again warns against rejecting God and ending up in a state of unbelief (verse 5). Once that happens, God’s promise of rest is over, because the unbeliever has broken with faith.

Henry explains further:

they shall never enter into this spiritual rest, either of grace here or glory hereafter. This is as certain as the word and oath of God can make it. As sure as God has entered into his rest, so sure it is that obstinate unbelievers shall be excluded. As sure as the unbelieving Jews fell in the wilderness, and never reached the promised land, so sure it is that unbelievers shall fall into destruction, and never reach heaven. As sure as Joshua, the great captain of the Jews, could not give them possession of Canaan because of their unbelief, notwithstanding his eminent valour and conduct, so sure it is that even Jesus himself, and captain of our salvation, notwithstanding all that fulness of grace and strength that dwells in him, will not, cannot, give to final unbelievers either spiritual or eternal rest: it remains only for the people of God; others by their sin abandon themselves to eternal restlessness.

Many theologians throughout history have said and continue to say that all are saved and that Hell is empty. Millions of people believe it. My theory is that such people are trying to make excuses for themselves and others, trying to assuage their own consciences.

However, Scripture does not tell us that all will be saved. It never has, no matter how we try to parse it.

Hebrews is one of the Bible’s greatest books. Studying it will make Christians appreciate our Lord and Saviour even more.

Christianity is an inestimable treasure. Let’s pray for those whose faith is shaky. May we never lose our own faith. May more come to follow Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Next time — Hebrews 4:6-11

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.

Hebrews 3:7-14

A Rest for the People of God

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

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Last week’s reading explained why Jesus is greater than Moses.

The one before that explained why Jesus is greater than all the angels.

Christians understand that intrinsically. However, the author’s Jewish audiences were reluctant to give up their reliance on the Old Covenant. There were also Jews, also addressed in Hebrews, who did not believe that Jesus is Messiah.

Hebrews addresses three different audiences at various times in various ways.

In order to understand Hebrews, we need to understand the Jewish mindset as it was and, in some cases, continues be to this day.

We do not know who wrote Hebrews. One thing we can say with confidence is that the Holy Spirit inspired the book, just as He inspired all the other books of the Bible.

Today’s reading is an urgent exhortation to have faith that Jesus is the Son of God.

The author begins by mentioning the Holy Spirit and His words (verse 7), which inspired David to write Psalm 95, paraphrased here (verses 7-11).

These are the relevant verses from Psalm 95:

7 For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.”

Serendipitously, they tie in with today’s readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.

The Psalm refers to the time when God’s people were in the wilderness after He enabled them to escape captivity in Egypt. He had given them so much through those miracles, yet they not only became discouraged, they actively rejected Moses — and Him.

Exodus 17:7 tells us what Meribah and Massah mean — ‘testing’ and ‘quarrelling’, respectively:

And he called the name of the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

They were on their way to the Promised Land — Canaan — but, instead of keeping their eye on the final destination, they rejected God.

The author of Hebrews tells his audience that they could fall into the same trap again by rejecting Christ. They were so absorbed with the persecutions that befell them for embracing Christianity that they wondered if their conversion had been the right thing to do.

Just as their ancestors had done, they were taking their eye off the prize: eternal life with Jesus Christ in the world to come.

Matthew Henry has an excellent exposition of these verses from Psalm 95 and their significance to the Hebrews of the author’s time. Both were falling into wilful sin. One thing that is always sure is God’s punishment of the thing He hates — sin. That is the one great lesson we should glean from the Old Testament as we read it (emphases mine):

3. The sins of others, especially our relations, should be a warning to us. Our fathers’ sins and punishments should be remembered by us, to deter us from following their evil examples. Now as to the sin of the fathers of the Jews, here reflected upon, observe,

(1.) The state in which these fathers were, when they thus sinned: they were in the wilderness, brought out of Egypt, but not got into Canaan, the thoughts whereof should have restrained them from sin.

(2.) The sin they were guilty of: they tempted and provoked God; they distrusted God, murmured against Moses, and would not attend to the voice of God.

(3.) The aggravations of their sin: they sinned in the wilderness, where they had a more immediate dependence upon God: they sinned when God was trying them; they sinned when they saw his works–works of wonder wrought for their deliverance out of Egypt, and their support and supply in the wilderness from day to day. They continued thus to sin against God for forty years. These were heinous aggravations.

(4.) The source and spring of such aggravated sins, which were, [1.] They erred in their hearts; and these heart-errors produced many other errors in their lips and lives. [2.] They did not know God’s ways, though he had walked before them. They did not know his ways; neither those ways of his providence in which he had walked towards them, nor those ways of his precept in which they ought to have walked towards God; they did not observe either his providences or his ordinances in a right manner.

(5.) The just and great resentment God had at their sins, and yet the great patience he exercised towards them (Hebrews 3:10): Wherefore I was grieved with that generation. Note, [1.] All sin, especially sin committed by God’s professing privileged people, does not only anger and affront God, but it grieves him. [2.] God is loth to destroy his people in or for their sin, he waits long to be gracious to them. [3.] God keeps an exact account of the time that people go on in sinning against him, and in grieving him by their sins; but at length, if they by their sins continue to grieve the Spirit of God, their sins shall be made grievous to their own spirits, either in a way of judgment or mercy.

(6.) The irreversible doom passed upon them at last for their sins. God swore in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest, the rest either of an earthly or of a heavenly Canaan. Observe, [1.] Sin, long continued in, will kindle the divine wrath, and make it flame out against sinners. [2.] God’s wrath will discover itself in its righteous resolution to destroy the impenitent; he will swear in his wrath, not rashly, but righteously, and his wrath will make their condition a restless condition; there is no resting under the wrath of God.

With this in mind, the author warns and encourages the Hebrews not to commit this same, serious sin leading them away from God (verse 12).

He stresses the urgency of the situation, exhorting them to bolster each other in the faith — ‘today’ — in order to avoid falling into serious sin (verse 13). As Henry’s commentary says, we do not own tomorrow:

Since to-morrow is none of ours, we must make the best improvement of to-day.

Serious sin comprises many things, one of which is unbelief. Repeated sin leads to sins of a greater nature. When the Bible says that consciences become ‘seared’, that means that they become hardened against goodness. It is as if they had scar tissue on them.

John MacArthur explains:

When I was in college I was thrown out of a car going about 75 miles an hour and I slid about 100 yards on my southern hemisphere, and I was thrown out and I slid. And of course, initially, I had third-degree burns because of the friction. And then from then on my back was just cleaned out about a half inch deep – 64 square inches of it. And all of the scar tissue that has replaced that is now insensitive, it’s been seared.

And, you know, it’s what happens so many times to somebody who hears the gospel repeatedly. The today my friends – watch it – the today only lasts as long as your conscience is sensitive to the Spirit of God. Then today is over, it’s tomorrow and it’s too late. That’s what He’s saying. Today if you’ll enact your will to hear God’s voice, don’t harden your heart. And your heart gets harder every time you say no to Jesus Christ when you know the truth.

When your heart is soft, and when your conscience is convicted, and when the intellect is sensed to Christ, and when the understanding admires Him – and that’s the time to move when you’re still pliable, when you’re still responsive, because some day you may experience that kind of hard heart that Proverbs 21:29 talks about, that kind of hard, stiff, stubborn, rebellious insensitiveness, and then all of a sudden it doesn’t mean anything.

And there are people who because of their wife brings them or because their wife wants them to, they may come to church; or there are kids because their parents bring them. They sit here, they’ve heard the gospel so many times, they can’t respond to it because their conscience has been seared, and there may be only little places of sensitivity the Spirit of God has left to appeal to. And so says the Spirit of God, “Don’t harden your heart. You know the truth. Respond to Christ.”

In addressing the Jewish converts, the author reminds them that he and they share a common bond through Christ — provided they continue to believe in Him and encourage each other so to do (verse 14).

This holds true for Christians today. MacArthur tells us:

If the evidence was in to Israel in that day, the evidence is in to us in this day that Jesus Christ is Lord, is it not? The evidence that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, died on the cross, rose again the third day, lives and saves men. The evidence is in. The evidence is secure. Christ has manifested God, the only begotten Son of the Father. He hath declared Him. He’s displayed His love. He’s displayed His grace. He sent the Holy Spirit. We don’t need any human Moses. We have the third person of the Trinity to reveal Christ on top of all historical evidence; and unbelief in the face of such overwhelming evidence is tragic indeed. And so He says to these Hebrews who know the gospel and have even made an intellectual assent to the gospel, “Don’t harden your hearts.” It’s so easy to grow cold and to grow callous to what God is trying to do in your life.

With that, however, comes the urgency to persevere every day, in spite of any persecution that might befall us as believers. And, these days, that is not something that occurs only in developing countries, either. It is also now alive and well in the West — even in the United States, where Christianity was once unshakeable.

Let us make every effort to keep our faith alive and deep. Let’s pray as often as we can. Let’s study the Bible regularly, including on our own.

May we always stay close to our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord — beginning today.

Next time — Hebrews 3:15-19

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 3:1-6

Jesus Greater Than Moses

Therefore, holy brothers,[a] you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s[b] house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.[c]

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Last week’s entry discussed Hebrews 2, in which the author explained why Jesus is superior to angels.

Christians understand that intrinsically. However, the author’s Jewish audiences were reluctant to give up their reliance on the Old Covenant. There were also some Jews, also addressed in Hebrews, who did not believe that Jesus is Messiah.

Hebrews addresses three different audiences at various times in various ways.

In order to understand Hebrews, we need to understand the Jewish mindset as it was and, in some cases, continues be to this day.

The author is passionate about putting forward the case for Christ being superior and all-sufficient. The New Covenant supersedes the Old Covenant of Moses.

For those of us who were brought up as Christians, Hebrews is a thrilling book to read. It makes us rejoice that Jesus redeemed us and sits at the right hand of the Father.

Hebrews is written with passion, as Matthew Henry’s commentary says of the unknown author inspired by the Holy Spirit (emphases mine):

In how fervent and affectionate a manner the apostle exhorts Christians to have this high priest much in their thoughts, and to make him the object of their close and serious consideration; and surely no one in earth or heaven deserves our consideration more than he.

Are we thrilled about our Christianity? Do we truly delight in Jesus as Saviour? Possibly not as much as we should. Henry says:

Here observe, 1. Many that profess faith in Christ have not a due consideration for him; he is not so much thought of as he deserves to be, and desires to be, by those that expect salvation from him. 2. Close and serious consideration of Christ would be of great advantage to us to increase our acquaintance with him, and to engage our love and our obedience to him, and reliance on him. 3. Even those that are holy brethren, and partakers of the heavenly calling, have need to stir up one another to think more of Christ than they do, to have him more in their minds; the best of his people think too seldom and too slightly of him. 4. We must consider Christ as he is described to us in the scriptures, and form our apprehensions of him thence, not from any vain conceptions and fancies of our own.

That cannot be emphasised too much.

John MacArthur says the same thing:

Listen, Christian, I say to you what the Spirit says: Consider Jesus. I mean, when the stuff gets rough and the problems come, and everything goes bad, and you start thinking about certain things that are tempting you and so forth and so on, put your gaze on Jesus and keep it there intently until all that He is begins to be unfolded before your eyes. And that’s just the reason that so many Christians are weak and worried, is they don’t really know the depths or the riches of Jesus Christ. Do you know that? They don’t know it.

Jesus made a classic statement. He said, “Learn of me.” He didn’t say, “Learn about me.” He said what? “Learn of me.” Let me ask you this. Do you really enjoy your Christian life? Do you just eat it up? Do you get up every morning and say, “Lord, I just can’t wait to get out of this place and see what you’re going to do?” I mean, do you just love your Christian life? I mean, is it so exciting you can hardly stand it? It ought to be. Do you enjoy Jesus Christ? Do you just go through the day, “Lord, your fellowship and your presence is thrilling”? Do you just sometimes want to stand up and shout? You ought to enjoy Him like that.

Many Christians don’t enjoy Jesus. Not at all. They’re miserable, unhappy. Don’t know anything about joy. The only thing the Lord’s good for is to cry on. And the reason is, they don’t know Him experientially, they don’t know Him richly. They need to learn Jesus, you see.

This is why Hebrews is one of my favourite books of the Bible. We couldn’t get more encouragement than this to experience Jesus more personally and fully.

The author addresses the Jews who have become Christians (verse 1). We know this because instead of calling them ‘brothers’, as Peter and Paul addressed the Jews in Acts, he calls them ‘holy brothers’: those ‘who share in a heavenly calling’.

He exhorts them to ‘consider Jesus’. If that seems a lukewarm exhortation, MacArthur explains why it is just the opposite:

Now, the word “consider” is fantastic. The word does not mean it’s flighty. The word does not mean take a glance. The word means set yourself to gaze intently on Jesus. You say, “Well, what’s He saying this to Christians for? We already know Christ.” Listen, no one needs that message any more than I do, do you know that? God can say to me right now, “MacArthur, consider Jesus,” because I’m a long way from really discovering all of his glori[e]s, all of his beauties, all that He is.

So He says to these believers, “Just gaze on Jesus. Will you just keep gazing on Him and don’t keep looking around at all these rituals, and all these problems, and all these persecutions. Just consider Jesus. You don’t need anything else. He’s sufficient for everything.”

The author calls Jesus ‘apostle’ and ‘high priest of our confession’ of faith. Henry explains the importance of these titles which the Jewish Christians — and we — must consider:

2. The titles he gives to Christ, whom he would have them consider, (1.) As the apostle of our profession, the prime-minister of the gospel church, a messenger and a principal messenger sent of God to men, upon the most important errand, the great revealer of that faith which we profess to hold and of that hope which we profess to have. (2.) Not only the apostle, but the high priest too, of our profession, the chief officer of the Old Testament as well as the New, the head of the church in every state, and under each dispensation, upon whose satisfaction and intercession we profess to depend for pardon of sin, and acceptance with God. (3.) As Christ, the Messiah, anointed and every way qualified for the office both of apostle and high priest. (4.) As Jesus, our Saviour, our healer, the great physician of souls, typified by the brazen serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness, that those who were stung by the fiery serpents might look to him, and be saved.

The author goes on to discuss obedience (verse 3). Jesus was faithful to His Father in accomplishing His will, just as Moses was a faithful servant to His people.

The Jews regard Moses as the greatest human who ever lived. It is true that the Lord appeared to Moses more than any other person in the Bible and that Moses was a great leader. MacArthur enumerates his blessings and accomplishments. That said, Moses was but a faithful servant:

Moses was faithful. He carried faithfully God’s plan. He came out of in Egypt, into the wilderness. God refined him. It took 40 years for Moses to make something out of himself; 40 years for God to wreck him, and then 40 years God could use him. But 40 years in the wilderness, God broke him, made him the man he wanted him to be. Then he took the children of Israel out of the land. He was faithful. He believed God. He got to the Red Sea. And I’ve often thought to myself, “If I got to the Red Sea and somebody said, ‘Wave a stick and it’ll part, ‘ I would have said, ‘Catch that again?’“ But he did. I mean, he believed God. He was faithful. He led the children of Israel through. And then he was faithful to the time in the wilderness.

Though there were times when he was unfaithful. There were several times, even in Egypt when he slew the Egyptian, even in the wilderness when he smote the rock instead of speaking to the rock. But Moses for the most part was faithful. And so here the Holy Spirit emphasizes similarity, so as not to isolate the Jewish person.

Now, you’ll notice that it says he was faithful in all his house. What house are you talking about? Well, this means household, oikos. And Moses is seen as a faithful steward in God’s household. You say, “Well, what is God’s household?” Well, you go to the Old Testament and you about the house of David and the house of Israel. Who then is God’s household? Believers. The Old Testament believers, Israel, and any proselytes who may have been involved. Old Testament believers. Moses was faithful in God’s household.

He was a steward. Now, it says in 1 Corinthians, “Moreover, brethren, it is required in stewards that a man be found” – what? – “faithful.” Now, a steward is somebody who doesn’t own the house; he manages it for the owner. God owns the house of Israel; Moses was in charge of management. He was in charge of dispensing the facts and the things that God committed to his trust, to the people of Israel. And Moses was faithful.

However, Jesus is far greater than Moses. Jesus is both apostle and high priest. No one can claim that of Moses. MacArthur tells us:

At best Moses was an apostle. Who was the high priest? Aaron. So in this sense, Jesus is superior in his office, for he is both; Moses was only one. He is the sent one, sent from God. Apostolos means sent from God. In the Greek, it would refer to an ambassador. And Jesus is the supreme ambassador of God, sent to earth.

And what are the characteristics of an apostolos or an ambassador? Well, number one, he has all the right and all the power and all the authority of the king in the country who sends him, and so did Jesus. He came clothed with the power of God. He came with all of God’s grace, all of God’s love, all of God’s mercy, all of God’s justice, and all of God’s power.

Secondly, an ambassador has to speak with the voice of the one who sent him. And so Jesus came and said, “I speak not that which I decide to speak. I speak only what I hear the Father say.” So Jesus was the perfect sent one from God. He came with all of God’s power, and with God’s voice He spoke. But beyond that, He was always the high priest of our profession.

Now, we’re not going to spend time on the high-priest concept, because that unfolds in the whole later section of Hebrews. Suffice it to say that the word “priest” in the Latin is the word pontifex, which broken into two words, means bridge-builder. And Jesus was the one who built the bridge from God the man. He was the one who connected God and man. And so Jesus is not only the sent one from God, with all God’s power and speaking with God’s voice, but He is the one who takes man and God and brings them together. He’s the bridge-builder. And He’s also the bridge.

Then it says that He is the apostle and high priest of our profession. That is, He’s the one we confess. And don’t you see the point of the verse? Listen to this. “If you profess Christ, if you confess that He is your Lord, then you certainly ought to gaze on Him”, right? That’s what He’s saying. “You Jews, you have received Christ, you’ve confessed Him as apostle and your new high priest, you’ve received all that He has. Now gaze on Him intently.” What sense, having confessed Him as Lord, not to gaze on Him as such?

The author then states that, for these reasons, Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house is esteemed more highly than the house he built (verse 3). Did Moses build the community of God’s people? No. He managed that community — and very effectively — but he did not create it. God did (verses 4, 5). And Jesus — the Alpha and Omega — has always existed with His Father.

Furthermore, Moses served God by managing the community of the Old Covenant, preparing them for the Messiah. Jesus is the High Priest of the Church, the New Covenant, which carries with it the promise of eternal life.

MacArthur explains:

Who is Christ’s household? I’ll read it to you. It’s in Ephesians chapter 2, verse 19. “Now therefore you are no more strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God.” The household of God. Who is this? It’s the church. We’re [of the] new household. And Jesus is the one who cares for us. In 1 Peter 1 – pardon me, 2:4, it says “To whom coming is unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men but chosen of God and precious, ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house.”

So as the believers of the Old Testament are called “The house of Moses,” the believers of the New Testament are called “The house of Christ.” And as Moses was faithful to an earthly household, Jesus was faithful to a heavenly household. As Moses was faithful to the house God gave him, Jesus was also faithful to the house that God gave Him. And Jesus could say at the end of His life, “Father, I have finished the work which you gave me to do. I’ve told the house all that you instructed me to tell them.” He was faithful. And so the Holy Spirit delicately then begins by comparing Moses with Jesus on the basis of their faithfulness to a God-given task.

The author states that Christ — meaning Lord — is the Son who is faithful to His Father’s house (verse 6). Therefore, His position is superior to that of Moses, a servant.

MacArthur analyses verses 3 through 6 as follows:

Moses was faithful, but he’s a piece of the house. Jesus made the house. That’s the difference. Jesus created Israel. All things were made by him, Hebrews 1 – or John 1. And without him was not anything made that was made.

Moses is only a member of the whole spiritual household which Jesus himself built. Jesus created Israel; Jesus created the church. You say, “Boy, in order to do that, you have to be God.” That’s verse 4. “For every house is built by some man, but He that built all things is” – what? – “is God.” And who built all things? Jesus did. So who is Jesus? He’s God. He’s God. Every house is built by some man. I mean, somebody – a human instrument is used.

For example, you’re here today. You’re a part of God’s house. Somebody shared Christ with you, did they not? Somebody did that. Somebody introduced you to Jesus. Somebody introduced maybe several of you to Jesus Christ. And they’re responsible in a human sense for part of the house. But who really created the house? God did. It was God through them, wasn’t it? And so the distinction is just that clear. Moses is just part of the house; Jesus made the house. So you see, to hang on to the forms of Judaism doesn’t make any sense, because the greater than Moses is here.

All right. Then we see, first of all, His office is superior and His work is superior. Thirdly, the superiority of His person. His person is superior, verses 5 and 6. And here’s the climax. And before we look at it, let me just give you the distinction. In this passage you’re going to see that Moses is by person a servant; Jesus is by person a son. Did you get that? And there’s a lot of difference, friends, between a servant and a son, is there not? And it reminds me of John 8, because in John 8 – I think it’s in John 8:25, yes. “And the servant abideth not in the house forever, but the son abideth forever.” In other words, there’s a certain ranking for the son. Servants come and go; sons are sons for life. And so there’s a difference.

Look at verse 5. “And Moses verily was faithful in all his house” – what? As what? – “as a servant.” As a servant. He conducted himself as a servant. And this is kind of a dignified word. Thereupon, it also is used of angels. In the Septuagint, it’s used of prophets. This is a ranking word. He was a faithful, obedient, ministering, caring servant, and he was a good steward of God. In Exodus 40, eight times – in Exodus chapter 40, eight times it refers to Moses’ obedience to all that God commanded him. That’s pretty good. In Exodus 35 to 40, 22 times it refers to Moses’ faithfulness to obey all that God commanded him. Can you say that about your life? Can God say of you, “Twenty-two times he obeyed all that I commanded him”? Moses was – he was up there. As exalted as he was, Jesus was more exalted.

Jesus spoke of Moses during His ministry. Moses did indeed testify of Him (verse 5), which is why the Jews expected the Messiah. MacArthur elaborates:

… let me just show you John 5:46. “For had ye believed Moses,” Jesus said, “You would have believed me, for he wrote of me.” Jesus said, “Moses wrote all about me.” So you see, to accept Moses and not Jesus isn’t really to accept Moses.

Then also recorded for us in Luke 24:27, and beginning – this is Jesus on the road to Emmaus. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures, the things concerning Himself.” He took Moses and said, “Now, watch what Moses says about me.” In Acts chapter 3 verse 22, “For Moses truly said unto the Father, a prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatever he shall say unto you.” And Peter went on to say, “And Jesus Christ is that prophet.” He is that prophet.

So you see, Moses pointed to Jesus. In fact, in Acts 28:23, yes, “And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets from morning until evening.” That means there was a whole lot of stuff there about Jesus in Moses’ writings.

The author concludes by stating that we — the faithful — are that house provided we believe in Christ without faltering and without losing our hope in Him. These ‘holy brothers’ were losing confidence in their conversions. Yet, despite all the hardship via persecution that they were experiencing, the author of Hebrews encourages them to stand firm in the faith, to be bold and confident about their new life in Christ.

This is why the author encourages them to ‘consider Jesus’, to think deeply about Him, thereby developing a greater relationship with Him.

As MacArthur says, this means putting navel-gazing and problems aside to focus on the future — eternal life:

If you’re going to run the Christian race, where are you going to look? Jesus.

I used to run the 100-yard dash at 2:20 in college. And one day we learned very soon that they don’t know it was – you can’t run when you watch your feet. Have you ever tried to do that? You can’t do it. I mean, you’ll run into a wall. You can’t do it. When you’ve got to stay in a lane, it’s amazing how your body works. You set your sight — just like when you drive — on something way down there, and you run right at that target. And when we used to run the sprints, we used to set our eyes on the tape. And we kept the eyes on the finish. That was not only motivation, but that’s what kept your sense of direction.

And when you’re running in the race as a believer, get your eyes off your feet. Get your eyes off yourself. You’re going to run into wall after wall after wall. You’ll be like the bruised and bleeding Pharisees that we talked about, who got that name because they thought it was a sin to look at a woman. They kept closing their eyes when they saw them, and they ran into all the buildings. There’s no sense in that.
You set your eyes on the tape. You look unto Jesus, the author and – the what? – the finisher of our faith. And you look at him and then you run. So many Christians run with their head down. It’s no wonder they run into everything.

That is a practical — and good — way of considering our Christian life. Truly considering Jesus — deeply, continuously — will turn us into long distance runners for that eternal, heavenly prize at the finish.

Next time — Hebrews 3:7-14

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 2:1-4

Warning Against Neglecting Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Testament also has references to this effect:

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

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

And breaking religious law brought about swift retribution and judgement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Supremacy of God’s Son

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

The main message is this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Hebrews 3:1-6

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 1:13-14

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the first 12 verses of Hebrews 1:

The Supremacy of God’s Son

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

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

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

Or again,

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

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

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

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

But of the Son he says,

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

10 And,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 6 cites Deuteronomy 32:43:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry expands on this beautifully:

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

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

This theme continues in Hebrews 2.

Next time — Hebrews 2:1-4

How sad for Christians who planned a trip to Paris with Easter Mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral as the high point:

Fox News reported:

Crowds lined the embankments across from the cathedral Saturday, taking photos or just staring in shock. The fire collapsed the spire and destroyed the roof of the 12th century monument, and Easter services normally held in Notre Dame are being conducted elsewhere.

Visitor Susan Harlow of Kansas City, Missouri, said: “We didn’t get here in time to see it. And now we probably never will,” given the many years it’s expected to take to repair.

I wonder if anyone there with children heard an Easter explanation like the following. I hope not, but this is, sadly, representative of modern Britain. This comment is from the British site PoliticalBetting.com (emphases mine):

Off-topic:

Over Easter I took my son to Ely Cathedral. Whilst there we talked about Easter, and he said: “It’s where Jesus dies to give children chocolate.”

Which he then extended into a dissertation on the nature of Jesus’ relationship with the Easter Bunny.

I must admit that if he formed that into a religion, I’d probably be a follower… :)

Those who normally worship at Notre-Dame were invited to Saint-Eustache Church on the Right Bank for Easter Mass.

Reuters has a splendid photo of Saint-Eustache and reported:

The archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, began the service by drawing a parallel between the planned reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, celebrated every year by Christians at Easter.

“We will rise up again and our cathedral will rise up again,” he told the congregation, which included the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and the head of the Paris fire service, General Jean-Claude Gallet.

The Independent had more:

Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit handed over a bible that had been rescued from Notre Dame to the firefighters, who held a place of honour at Sunday’s service.

Aupetit thanked city officials for their support amid “the drama” of last Monday’s fire, and “especially you, those for whom this Mass is dedicated” — the firefighters who struggled for nine hours to contain flames that consumed Notre Dame’s roof and collapsed its spire.

He notably thanked fire service chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who saved the most precious thing for Catholics from the fire, the chalice containing consecrated hosts that for Catholics are the body of Christ.

I will have more on Fr Fournier in another post. He truly was on the front line.

The New York Post‘s story on this Easter Mass at Saint-Eustache said that many dignitaries attended not only from France but also other countries.

Let us now consider why Notre-Dame’s bursting into flames for nine hours was so devastating.

It was more than ‘a church’, and no, the faithful will not despair, even though the cathedral is unarguably one of the hallmarks of Western civilisation:

The Spectator‘s Tom Holland assesses Western civilisation correctly in light of the great achievements from the Middle Ages. Our civilisation is a Christian one:

Another Briton, the controversial Milo Yiannopoulos, who is Catholic and Jewish via parentage, wrote a considered article for FrontPage Mag,
‘The Notre Dame Fire: Our Fault, Our Most Grievous Fault’, published on Good Friday, April 19, 2019.

Excerpts follow:

Buildings like Notre Dame do not erupt into flames spontaneously. That’s not how God works, even to punish a civilization as deep in moral ruin as ours. My suspicions, and those of almost everyone I know, are hardly calmed when we see Fox News—yes, even Fox—repeatedly refusing to host an honest discussion of the possibility, even as experts tell French TV that eight hundred year old timber simply doesn’t burn that way without an accelerant. I mean, it’s not as though news networks restrain their hosts from wild speculation during other crises …

Anyway, as of now, no solid evidence has emerged, and our media refuses to discuss the context in which this fire occurred

We can say, however, that the loss of Notre Dame is an especially Christian tragedy. It is a tragedy emblematic of the rapid destruction of Western civilization in the past few decades, a visual reminder of the inferno that has already gutted the Academy. It’s a wonder they didn’t finish off some of these churches first, though of course the cultural warriors of the Left can only squeal in excitement at the sort of brazen defacement they would never be brave enough to commit themselves …

That’s not to say that only Christians are mourning. Notre Dame wasn’t just the spiritual heart of Paris but remains its literal geographic center—the place from which distances are measured. As a cathedral school, it was the center of medieval intellectual life. Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas both taught there. Whatever the later horrors of French postmodernism and poststructuralism, the University of Paris once had a reasonable claim to be the locus of the Western intellectual tradition, leading the world in the study of Aristotle, scholastic theology and reason applied to the mysteries of faith.

Notre Dame is considered the ultimate example of High Gothic style, a popular form for churches because it symbolizes the body of Christ. It is significant and—again, to let my suspicions run amuck—surely no coincidence that this happened during Holy Week, since hope for the resurrection is at the heart of Gothic design. But Notre Dame transcended its role as a place of Catholic worship. As the recently departed Fr. James Schall once remarked about the great cathedrals of Europe, “Each of these extraordinary structures, built somehow in a way I do not wholly understand by ages far poorer than our own, incited me strangely in the thoroughly unexpected way that something which need not exist at all surprises and awakens us when, contrary to our private illusions and expectations, we suddenly discover that it exists and that it is lovely.”

He went on: The shock and glory of unexpectedly finding such buildings touches almost the peak of human experience. The very foundations of our existence, then, are grounded in this startling realization that we do not already grasp all of reality, especially things of such exalted beauty. We cannot but be humbled by the immediate revelation of how much we have missed. And yet we are glad that, so humbled, we can now inherit what the Earth has borne to us. For we stand to all reality as we do to Durham and to Freiburg and to Litchfield [cathedrals] when we behold them for the first time, when we are given something by the ages that we could not create or even imagine by ourselves.”

For lovers of architecture, the cathedral’s North Rose window is one of the three great surviving roses from the thirteenth century. The rose has Mary at its center. As God shone through Mary, taking on the color of her human nature, so does the sunlight take on the color of the glass. As St. Bernard of Clairvaux put it in the twelfth century, “As a pure ray enters a glass window and emerges unspoiled, but has acquired the color of the glass… the Son of God who entered the most chaste womb of the Virgin, emerged pure, but took on the color of the Virgin, that is, the nature of a man and a comeliness of human form, and he clothed himself in it.”

… Mary—the “Our Lady” of Notre Dame—is proof of the Incarnation. It is her body through which God becomes incarnate and it is she through whom the Word became incarnate and who is taken as a patron by educators. Notre Dame was built to support this understanding, a belief unique to Christianity.

I sense in much of the European coverage of the past week a kind of guilt. France, perhaps more than any other country, deserved some sort of retribution from God, and I think Parisians know it. France doesn’t even record its citizens’ religious beliefs in its national census. No one has any idea what percentage of French people are Christian, though we can be sure the percentage is going down as the number of Muslims goes up. Since the Enlightenment, France has done more than any other country to wipe out Christianity. And it started early. As long ago as 1767, Voltaire described the Christian religion as “sans contredit la plus ridicule, la plus absurde, et la plus sanguinaire qui ait jamais infecté le monde.” (“Without question the most ridiculous, absurd and bloody ever to have infected the world.”)

In the West, we have lost our appreciation of Christianity as a source of reason, hope and joy, and we embrace characterizations of the faith as weak, ridiculous, superstitious and faintly sick—impressions not helped by the current state of the Catholic church hierarchy. The loss is not total, just as many of Notre Dame’s most precious relics and treasures appear to have been saved. But the trajectory is clear.

As for Notre-Dame’s restoration:

It is characteristic of Western civilization to rise again, as even Left-wing medievalists who can’t bring themselves to acknowledge Christianity have to admit. But can we possibly restore what has been lost even if we try? The West has lost its soul, and with that soul, its craft. As we lost our understanding of God as maker, we lost our respect for making things ourselves. We therefore no longer possess either the will or the means to build something like Notre Dame, less still the technical ability to dare attempt a repair. We have forgotten how, and part of me says the Cathedral should be left to stand precisely as it is now to remind us of the fact, unfinished and unrepaired until we rediscover the purpose for which it was constructed in the first place. We don’t have the right to crassly imitate the original.

Hilaire Belloc could say, approvingly and as recently as the twentieth century, that Europe “repairs and finishes.” Could he have said that today? Would he, after hearing Emmanuel Macron’s chilling pledge that Notre Dame will be rebuilt “more beautiful than before”? In 1905, churches in France were declared the property of the state, which raises horrifying prospects for Notre Dame’s reconstruction. Will Macron suggest a “multi-faith prayer space” in order to be “truly inclusive” of France’s “multicultural society”? Don’t bet against it, folks. Already the calls are going out from elitist architects—in Rolling Stone, natch—that the rebuilding should not reflect “white European France.”

Of this nine-hour blaze that defies description, Milo says:

It was alive, and, mesmerized by it, we got a glimpse of our end, of what we have allowed to happen to our greatest institutions, of the defacement done to our curricula and the petty vandalism we allow every day to be performed upon our laws, our customs and our social mores by people who loathe everything about us. And in that acrid smoke lurked a question that haunts me today: Did we deserve this?

Quite possibly, Milo.

This image goes quite well with his article:

Many visitors tweeted their favourite memories of Notre-Dame, whether a rose window …

… or the magnificent vaults …

… or Mass:

This is what the world — not just the West — lost:

Be that as it may, we must keep our sights on higher things:

The frustration is seeing the enemy causing so much destruction and deception among men, but the Lord reminds us to keep our minds on things above. We have eternal life and God’s Kingdom to look forward to.

My prayers go to those who are investigating the blaze and to those who are working towards Notre-Dame’s eventual restoration.

I will have more on this topic tomorrow.

This Tuesday of Easter Week is St George’s Day — April 23, 2019.

It is time the English reclaimed their patron saint’s feast day. Other countries are proud to celebrate this special day. How wonderful, therefore, to see a trend for St George’s Day on Twitter, which includes these delightful tweets:

On a contemplative note, the following are by two Catholics from the Archdiocese of Southwark in London:

Returning to Easter, conservative commentator Chuck Woolery’s witness for the faith gives pause for thought, as does the video in the first reply he received:

I also liked this reply to America’s First Lady’s Easter greetings (click on image link to see it in full):

On Easter Sunday, the Trumps attended a morning service at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach. The Daily Caller has photos, especially of First Lady Melania Trump.

While the Trumps posed for photo ops outside the church, back in Washington, things went less well for Robert Mueller, who was accosted by a reporter outside of St John’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC after worship.

I’m hardly a Mueller fan, but this is just plain wrong:

On Easter Monday, the Trumps hosted the traditional Easter Egg Roll at the White House:

This video shows the First Couple returning to the White House from Palm Beach on Sunday. The Easter Egg Roll event begins at 12:50:

Mrs Trump read to the children (fashion notes here) …

… as did Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, mother of four:

As ever, the day was packed with activities. On April 19, the White House announced:

First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald J. Trump invite this year’s Easter Egg Roll attendees to enjoy a variety of activities, including the time-honored Egg Roll and the Trump Administration’s Cards for Troops station. New to the Egg Roll this year: musical eggs and Be Best hopscotch. In recognition of the First Lady’s Be Best campaign, children will also have the opportunity to spread kindness by mailing postcards to anyone they choose – friends, family, members of the military – directly through a United States Postal Service mailbox that will be on the South grounds.

Over 30,000 attendees are expected to walk the historic south grounds of the White House, experiencing all the tradition and fun that comes with the White House Easter Egg Roll.

There were also egg hunts, egg and cookie decorating stations, the military bands, tennis court activities, and a chance for the children to meet costumed characters, such as the Easter Bunny:

Reading stations have been a big part of the Trump Easter Egg Rolls, with members of the president’s advisory team as well as the Cabinet. Imagine hearing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, General Joseph Keith Kellogg, Jr. or Surgeon General Jerome Adams reading a book to a group of children. If past readers of previous years are anything to go by, they no doubt did exceptionally well.

Mrs Trump was delighted with the event and her many guests:

I am so pleased this went well and without incident.

Tomorrow’s post concerns a very sad subject: the attacks on Sri Lankan churches at Easter.

This eight-minute video from Michael Knowles of The Daily Wire is an excellent exploration of the future reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Holy Week and Jesus:

For such a young man, Knowles posits observations well beyond his years.

His video is based around Rolling Stone‘s article from Holy Week, after the Notre-Dame fire, saying that the cathedral should be reconstructed to move away from ‘a deeply flawed institution’ — the Catholic Church.

Knowles says that it’s not only the Catholic Church that has flaws. Every Christian denomination has them, because of mankind’s own flaws.

He says that, following on logically from Rolling Stone‘s assertion, the further we pull away from our traditional institutions — even secular ones — the more our society becomes ‘lonely’ and ‘isolated’. He says that we have seen this happen in Western countries over the past few decades to the point that even our basic structure of the family unit is fracturing.

Knowles goes on to quote Edmund Burke, who said, essentially, that liberating oneself from everything constricting results in a life without meaning.

Knowles ends by saying there is something to be said for ‘an exalted freedom’, which actually requires ‘some subservience’ and ‘obedience’. He says this is best exemplified in Jesus, in the last days before His death and resurrection — the events we remember during Holy Week and Easter.

Knowles says that Jesus did not come to us as a ‘fully liberated hippie guy’ but as a ‘servant’. He submitted His will to that of His Father for the benefit of mankind.

Knowles should pursue the ministry. He makes much more sense than most present-day clerics.

More on Notre-Dame to follow this week.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomI went to the early morning Easter Communion service today at my neighbourhood Anglican parish church.

The early morning Easter service is always a wonderful reminder of the passing from darkness into light. As our vicar reminded us, traditional churches remain dark from the end of the Maundy Thursday service through to Easter morning, whether that be at a daybreak or early morning service.

The light returns via the Paschal candle, which is lit following a prayer. The acolyte then lights the other candles from the flame of the Paschal candle.

John’s Gospel has a recurring theme of darkness and light. The risen Christ is, indeed, that Light.

Our vicar gave a moving sermon, encouraging us to think of the Resurrection as a living reality, whereby not only our souls but also our mortal bodies will once again be reunited in glorious perfection one day.

He pointed out that Christianity is the only religion that offers life after death. This is what Jesus accomplished through His resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter.

The vicar’s sermon was a moving one, as he is a convert from another world faith. He implored us not to turn the Resurrection into an intellectual or historical exercise, because it will be a very real experience when the time comes. He also exhorted us not to view Jesus as a mere historical good example of a life well lived, but as our Saviour and Redeemer.

I thought about the vicar’s sermon for most of the day whilst occupied with gentle pursuits: caring for God’s creation in the garden and preparing a suitable, satisfying Easter dinner of roast lamb.

Our vicar’s sermon made me wish that Easter were more than just one day. Whilst we are now in Easter Week, there are no modern readings by which to remember our Lord’s resurrection for the next six days.

As each year passes, I long for a more fulsome celebration and remembrance of the Resurrection. We sing the beautiful and joyous Easter hymns only one day a year.

For some of us, our recollection of the Resurrection ends up being a fleeting one.

However, it does not need to be this way.

An Evangelical pastor in California, the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries in Fallbrook, has written a beautiful series of sermons on the meaning of the Resurrection and its impact. I hope that you will read the following posts in the coming week and reflect upon his considered, thought-provoking messages about what he terms Resurrection theology:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor has also reflected similarly upon the Resurrection in the context of people’s anger with the Church. This, too, is guaranteed to get us thinking about our sin and the purpose of the Crucifixion as well as our Lord’s rising from the dead in eternal glory — for us:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

I hope that you will join me in contemplating Resurrection Theology, even when it is not stated in those terms.

Christ our Lord is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Once again, readers, happy Easter.

May the blessings of the risen Christ be with us today and always. Amen.

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